Upper House passes bill to prevent fallout from criminal prosecutions loophole

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By Latrishka Thomas

[email protected]

The Senate has passed an amendment to fix a section in the Criminal Prosecutions Service Act that makes it unlawful for the police to institute charges against someone without the written approval of the Director of Public Prosecutions.

The legislation, which was passed in 2017 and enacted in November 2021, states that “no public officer shall, after the commencement of this Act, institute any criminal proceedings or undertake the prosecution of any criminal case in any court, unless he is authorised to do so in writing by the DPP [Director of Public Prosecutions]”.

And one attorney, having noticed that, used that provision to get one of his clients out of prison with a writ of habeas corpus.

Having heard submissions from lawyer Wendel Robinson, Justice Ann-Marie Smith ruled that the charge against Robinson’s client was a nullity, thereby freeing the man immediately.

But the ruling meant that all charges filed after a specific date in November 2021 were also void.

As a result, Attorney General Steadroy Benjamin moved to amend the law which he described as being impractical.

On Thursday, when the bill was tabled in the Upper House, government senators called for the opposition’s full support.

Among those was Senator Caleb Gardiner who stressed the importance of alleviating the current crime situation.

“It would be remiss of us to make such a simple amendment contentious because, given what we are seeing today, it’s disheartening … and if we can’t give power to other law enforcement agencies to help curb the criminal activity, what will happen?” he remarked.

Gardiner went on to call on the Opposition to “band together, gird [their] loins”, and “play [their] part”.

Senate Minority Leader Shawn Nicholas, however, emphasised the fact that affected persons could take legal action for their unlawful imprisonment.

“The question is what happens to all those cases that have been tried, the many convictions by the magistrate … without the written authority of the DPP?” she asked.

It must be noted, however, that the amendment, which now makes it possible for police and other public officers to charge perpetrators of crime, was made retroactive.

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