Response by Former DPP – Travers Sinanan

This statement is a response to the comments made by the Prime Minister, Timothy Harris, in his recent monthly press conference on October 13, 2015. It is confined to and focuses on the comments made regarding law and order and the unjustified, unfounded and unsubstantiated attack on the Office of the DPP during my tenure.
It has been long said that there are “lies, damn lies, and statistics” and it seems that Prime Minister Harris has amalgamated all of the above into his October press conference. In relation to the following comments by the Prime Minister –
“I am pleased to report the continuing downward trajectory of crime. Crime which was out of control long before the people intervened on February 16, 2015, is trending downward, still high but trending downwards. Our new strategies are bearing fruit.”
Nothing could be further from the truth as gun crime, murders and attempted homicides continue to rise as a result of gun crime with the last count being some 26 (put in the updated figure, please) murders thus far. Where is the evidence of a continuing down trend if the murder rate continues to rise? There seems to be no sight in end. No strategy in place, no proactive programme to address the escalating violence in this society. We are led to believe that a contingent of UK ‘consultants’ are advising on the strategies and policies to curb crime. However, the escalation continues.
I am made to understand that this contingent of “UK consultants” consist of a group of former UK police officers, who have previously done work in the Caribbean. No concrete strategy has been proposed by this group of individuals. It is not clear if this is an official UK consultation team or a private consultation team. Prime Minister Harris continues to insult the intelligence of the public and pulls the wool over the eyes of the public by referring to stating that the crime situation is under control-the figures show differently.
During my tenure when the move was being initiated a couple months ago to introduce these “police advisers” despite repeated requests by me to the Police High Command (Acting Commissioner Liburd) that they should meet with me as DPP so we could have a mutual understanding of each other’s strategies and programmes – such requests went unheeded and never materialized. I have no doubt in my mind this meeting never materialized because of what they thought I knew about these “police advisers” and the questions I would ask and which would demand specific answers. I cannot but help think that deliberate efforts were made to obstruct and avoid such a meeting.
I now turn to the comments made by the Prime Minister which attacked the performance of the Office of the DPP during my tenure.
“The last criminal assizes was a dismal performance by the office of DPP where only 3 of 35 cases were tried. Thirty two (32) cases were traversed to the current September assizes. Dane Hamilton’s support is a constructive boost to the criminal justice system and much tutoring and mentoring can be had by the juniors in the Office of the DPP. The positive action which my government took to resolve the tenure of former DPP, has brought stability, finality and forward movement to the prosecution. The criminal justice system is best served by a high performing office of DPP. By drawing on the expertise and experience of Dane Hamilton, one of the regions finest, we free criminal justice system for efficacious outcomes. We will not put a price on justice. We are prepared to go all the way to protect our citizens and residents and to preserve the sanctity of the justice system in general and the criminal justice system in particular. In the May assizes, I am advised that five matters were nolle prossed by the former DPP, Mr Sinanan. The consequence of these actions and others is that claims just under $10 million to date confront the taxpayers of this country. Certainly, we could not allow this unnecessary haemorrhage on public purse to continue.
It is clear that Prime Minister Harris has been both careless with the truth and accuracy of the facts in respect of my performance as DPP and that of the Office, in particular with reference to the comments highlighted above. This is best answered in point form. Please note I do not wish to criticize/blame anyone who previously was in charge but the points that I make below are based on the facts and truth of the matter.
1. I took up office in July 2013 and inherited a number of cases going back to 2008 and in one instance 2006. The majority of these cases were murder cases and serious offences with multiple defendants. They were poorly reviewed, if at all; ill-prepared and devoid of any legal rigour.
2. The lawyers I met in the department were not given any guidance or mentoring, nor were they given any advice on case analysis and case preparation. They were all very junior in years, inexperienced, lacking in knowledge and know-how. A complete metamorphosis and different work ethic was required. This I embarked upon in a purposeful manner. It was met with resentment and opposition by some. Not all, of the Crown Counsel within the office at the time were supportive of this initiative.
3. A systematic and thorough review of all pending criminal trials, old and new, needed to be carried out. This was done in accordance with the Code for Prosecutors which involved consideration of two major principles: (a) sufficiency of evidence test and (b) public interest test. If the review revealed that the Crown’s case failed the sufficiency of evidence test that would be the end of the matter as there would be no realistic prospect of conviction; if however, it passed the first hurdle the public interest then had to be considered. The test at this stage was whether it was in the public’s interest to prosecute the case in question.
4. I introduced a system of continuous review of cases which meant that cases were constantly being reviewed at every stage prior to and during trial to ensure that the Code for Prosecutors was adhered to.
5. One of the major problems faced by the Office was the reluctance and recalcitrance of the witnesses to give evidence. Witnesses were fearful for their lives and that of their families (and still are). This jurisdiction has no structured and formal Witness Protection Programme. The laws relating to witness anonymity have not been assented to and most witnesses do not trust the police. I have made numerous representations to have such programmes implemented during my tenure, however, to date nothing was done.
6. When cases were called up during the Assizes they were still subject to review and if any of the above in para. 5 were present, a reasoned decision then had to be made as to whether the case should proceed or not. If the case could not go ahead, it was the duty of the Office of the DPP (ODPP) to enter a nolle prosequi (which means to withdraw the proceedings in accordance with the constitutional power of the DPP to do so) to ensure the trial is stopped and if the accused is in custody his immediate release should be arranged. The exercise of this power is not subject to the approval of anyone nor is an explanation needed for the exercise of such power. This is enshrined in the Constitution of the Federation of St Kitts and Nevis. Therefore, the comments of the Prime Minister was an open criticism of the exercise of such a constitutional power by the Office of the DPP (ODPP) and a direct interference by the Executive into the workings of the ODPP.
7. To continue to prosecute a case where the evidence is poor or non-existent would be tantamount to a malicious prosecution and an infringement of the constitutional rights of the accused. It defies logic that the Prime Minister Harris has complained about the five cases being nolle prosequi without knowing the background of these cases. Common sense should tell him that a malicious prosecution would cost the State a greater amount in compensation. It would certainly have cost the government more than the $10 million he claims they paid out and the haemorrhaging of the public purse that he refers to would have turned into a tsunami of malicious prosecution claims had these cases not been nolle prosequi on my instructions as DPP.
8. “The last criminal assizes was a dismal performance by the office of DPP where only 3 of 35 cases were tried. Thirty two (32) cases were traversed to the current September assizes.
The above comment that only three cases were dealt with is again a manipulation of the truth to create a particular image. These cases involved multiple defendants. There were lengthy submissions by both sides during the trials and a number of issues arose regarding witnesses and jurors which contributed to the extended duration of the trials.
9. This is a single judge jurisdiction in St Kitts with one court which sits Monday to Thursday for criminal matters and Friday for civil matters. In addition, the Court of Appeal sits for one week during the Assizes. Also, there are occasions when judicial administrative matters may interrupt the ongoing trial process. It would have helped if the Prime Minister had looked into these matters properly and done his homework as to the reasons behind the facts and figures rather than focusing on a scandalous personal attack on me in order to camouflage the abysmal failure and performance of those in his cabinet whose Ministry was responsible for the administration of justice.
10. This was an attack not only on the ODPP but also on the workings of the resident judiciary. The Prime Minister has clearly overstepped his bounds and has ignored the doctrine of the separation of powers. An example of this was that during the hearing of my matter with the Attorney-General the Prime Minister found himself at court giving instructions to their counsel.
11. The very fact that he said – “We are hoping that by early in 2016, we will witness the official opening of a second High Court sitting in Basseterre. Discussions have been between the office of the Attorney General and the office of the Chief Justice of this most important development” shows that he accepts that a second court is needed and having a single court creates severe limitations on the progress of matters in the court system. This is another example of a clear contradiction of himself and that no thought whatsoever went into the comments he made. This is not rocket science, but common sense.
12. During the course of my litigation between me and the Attorney-General, the Law Association were made aware of the attempts by the Attorney-General to remove me from office and totally disregard the Constitution. The Law Association being an independent body who are tasked with protecting the Constitution and the Rule of Law, one would have expected that their executive would have expressed their concern about what was taking place. However, their silence was deafening and to date they have ‘sat on their hands’ and said nothing. I wonder why?
13. For the record, not only did I introduce a different work ethic and changed the system of case review and preparation, I also built capacity to ensure that the experience within the office was tiered. Training was introduced for all arms of the law enforcement agencies with the assistance of high calibre UK judges and practitioners. This was done with the assistance of the Permanent Secretaries of both the Ministry of Justice and the Anti-Crime Unit. The latter was also instrumental in assisting me in retaining the services of Dr Alexandrov, an established forensic pathologist from Trinidad to conduct post-mortems and to provide detailed reports with body sketches and photographs. I say this not to boast but to emphasize the functions of the DPP is not confined to and goes beyond the courtroom. Interaction with other agencies, capacity building, strategies and policies, training are just some of the functions that are crucial to the professional development and workings of the ODPP. It is unfortunate that those who are supposed to know this chose to ignore the facts and make comments which are superficial and misleading.
I conclude by saying that I wish the Federation of St Kitts and Nevis all God’s blessings. They continue to be in my prayers and to reassure them that nothing lasts forever…”weeping may endure for the night, but joy cometh in the morning.”
I thank all those who supported my wife and me through a very difficult time. We are truly indebted to them. I include yourself and your Wednesday panellists who have been so robust in their support of us when it was needed.
With best wishes and all God’s blessings,
Respectfully yours,
Travers Sinanan

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