Criminal proceedings at the St. John’s and All Saints Magistrates Courts may be halted today, March 6, due to issues that have arisen from the enactment of the Criminal Prosecutions Services Act, 2017.
Last Friday, March 3, attorney-at-law Wendel Robinson, who is representing former parliamentarian Dean Jonas in a criminal case brought by the police, made a submission to the court, claiming the police do not have the legal authority to prosecute Jonas – or anyone else for that matter.
The Criminal Prosecutions Service Act, passed in 2019, brought the prosecution of all criminal matters under the stewardship of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).
Therefore, the Police Force, which prosecuted summary matters in the Magistrates Court, no longer has sole responsibility for doing so, since the DPP’s Office is now the principal prosecutorial agency.
As a result, Section 31 of the Police Act, 1951, which gave the Police the right to prosecute criminal offences was repealed.
Based on the 2017 Act – for which Attorney-General Steadroy “Cutie” Benjamin gave notice of legal effect only on November 15, 2021, according to a source – a special oath has to be taken by police officers and prosecutors within the Office of the DPP in order to prosecute before a magistrate.
Apparently, this has not been done.
The source believes that the oath was not drafted until recently, since police prosecutors and Crown counsels in the DPP’s Office reportedly were instructed to show up to the High Court at 8 a.m. today to swear the special oath.
Reports say that police officers will not be able to go before a magistrate until they have taken that oath.
Additionally, the source says that a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) – which outlines certain requirements and guidelines for the police prosecutors to follow – was drafted. Allegedly, the MoU also addresses a stipend that these particular officers are to receive for their attachment to the DPP’s Office.
However, the source says this document was never signed by the relevant parties – i.e., the DPP and the Commissioner of Police – nor was it ratified by the Cabinet.
Further, the source explains that, according to the Act, charges at the Magistrates Court should have been brought in the name of the Director of Public Prosecutions – and not the name of the Commissioner of Police, since the law authorizing the police to prosecute cases has been repealed.
Yet, even after the Act came into force 16 months ago, charges were still being laid and taken before the court in the name of the Commissioner, creating the current quandary.
This error applies to Jonas’ matter, which reportedly includes two additional charges: another threatening-language offence and an assault charge. These were also brought in the name of the Police Commissioner.
Based on this conundrum, the source believes these latest charges, as well as Jonas’ four previous charges, are null and void.
He says Jonas is likely to walk free from prosecution, and it is unlikely that his case – which is set for a decision on Robinson’s arguments – will be heard on Monday morning.
Apparently, going forward, all charges will have to be brought in the name of the Director of Public Prosecutions or the Crown.
Now, according to the source, the Attorney-General is scrambling to put measures in place to rectify this matter, which has far-reaching implications.