THE response by Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Roger Gaspard SC to the public chastising of his office by Chief Justice Ivor Archie is a model of sober and reasoned argument that the CJ would do well to emulate.
Notwithstanding the distastefulness of the public sparring between such exalted office-holders, we agree with DPP Gaspard that the “public ringing of certain alarm bells cannot be properly addressed privately”. With the Chief Justice having gone public in singling out the Office of the DPP for blame for the backlog of criminal cases, it was incumbent on DPP Gaspard to respond. He has done so in some detail and, in the process, sent the ball back into the Chief Justice’s court.
The DPP cited four reasons for the very low number of 12 indictments filed by his office over the last law term: perennial shortage of legal and support staff; impact of the Covid-19 work regime; the judiciary’s reneging on an agreement to accept approximately 450 non-electronic committals and related indictments with transcripts from his office; and a lack of space at the DPP’s office to safely accommodate staff, equipment and bulk filing.
Surely, as chairman of the Judicial and Legal Service Commission (JLSC) which has ultimate responsibility for the administration of justice, Chief Justice Archie would have been aware of these inhibiting factors on the DPP’s office when he delivered his broadside against it. It is, for example, the responsibility of the JLSC and not the DPP to fill vacancies at the Criminal High Court created by the JLSC’s promotion of several judges to the Appeal Court.
While the Chief Justice may have been under some pressure to account for his stewardship as is expected at the opening of a new law term, passing the buck down the line does not help his case.
Now that the DPP has responded, we hope the CJ will not be tempted to further damage the judiciary by escalating their differences into a public row. This will only erode the little fragment of respect and trust the public has in this important but badly-damaged institution.
It is, however, difficult to escape the conclusion that these two senior office-holders are not on speaking terms. If they were, these matters would have been resolved behind closed doors and the justice system would be not spilling its guts in full public view.
If there is value in the public exposure of friction it is that it opens yet another window into the worrying state of affairs at the very top of the justice system to reveal additional reason for alarm over Archie’s tenure as Chief Justice.
This newspaper is on record for calling for the resignation of CJ Archie and, failing that, for the Prime Minister to exercise his constitutional power to establish an independent tribunal into the conduct of the Chief Justice in several personal matters that bear on his office. In his steadfast refusal to act, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley has dismissed such calls as “kangatang”. In the absence of action, this latest development demonstrates what happens when the rot begins to set in.