The significance of a criminal prosecution service

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Three months from now, the much talked about Criminal Prosecution Service should be operational, with the Director of Public Prosecutions taking over all criminal cases in Antigua and Barbuda.

Following the footsteps of St. Lucia, the twin island state passed the necessary legislation in 2017 to make this possible by June 1.

Legal Affairs Minister Steadroy Benjamin explained that under the new service, “The police and other investigating bodies [would] do their investigation and bring them to the Criminal Prosecution Service for the Director of Public Prosecutions to determine what charges, if any, are to be laid. This does not in any way interfere with the police effecting arrests.

“Of course they can arrest anyone . . . they believe has committed offences. But the charges to be laid, in the final analyses, rests solely and totally within the confines of the DPP and his office.”

Benjamin said the pending change in the way prosecution of matters is managed would not cause any delays in the administration of justice.

“It does not mean that every file would be read by the Director of Public Prosecutions. He will oversee what happens and what charges are to be laid. In the end it will lead to . . . a more speedy way of dealing with matters. Secondly, and more importantly, it will lead to a situation where persons are not charged for offences except or unless there is a reasonable prospect of success,” he said.

The minister said there are too many instances where people are charged and then the cases have to be withdrawn months later due to a lack of evidence.

He said this clearly indicates that such an investigation was not properly conducted in the first place.

Under the Criminal Prosecution Service Act, the DPP shall have responsibility for the conduct of criminal cases in the Magistrate’s Court, High Court, Court of Appeal, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, or any other appellate court established by law.

He would also be responsible for preparing a code of practice to guide prosecutors in determining whether proceedings for an offence should be instituted; whether proceedings that have been instituted should be discontinued; what charges should be brought; and whether to make representation to a Magistrate’s Court about the mode of trial best suited for that case – that is, whether it should be a summary or indicatable matter.

The DPP would therefore be required to update the code of practice accordingly whenever new legal precedents are set, or when new laws and amendments are passed.

The attorney general said the current DPP, Anthony Armstrong, is working along with members of the Police, Labour and Immigration departments to meet the June 1 timeline for commencement.

Benjamin added that already, the staff complement within the DPP’s office has increased.

He said this will further ensure manpower is in place to deliver efficient and effective justice.

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