Lower House votes to get rid of police prosecution

St John's Magistrate's Court

The Criminal Prosecutions Services Bill 2017, which now brings the prosecution of all criminal matters under the stewardship of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) was passed in the Lower House earlier today.

This means that the police force, which once prosecuted summary matters in the magistrates’ Court will no longer do so, as the office of the DPP is now the principal prosecutorial agency in Antigua and Barbuda.

Crown Counsels attached to the DPP’s office will be dispatched to do cases in the lower courts.

Therefore, Section 31 of the Police Act passed on 2 January 1951, which gave the police the right to prosecute criminal matters will be repealed.

Criminal matters coming out of the Office of National Drug Control and Money Laundering Policy (ONDCP), the Royal Police Force of Antigua and Barbuda and the Customs, Immigration and Labour departments fall under the directive of the DPP.

Under the Bill, the DPP will give directives as to whether proceedings should be instituted, discontinued, what charges should be laid and the mode of trial suitable for a particular case-whether summary (in the Magistrates’ Court) or indictably (in the High Court before judge and jury).

The police still have the responsibility to investigate criminal matters in Antigua and Barbuda.

Concerns were expressed by several parliamentarians about certain aspects of the Bill, including Opposition Leader Baldwin Spencer, MP for All Saints East and St Luke Joanne Massiah and MP for St George Dean Jonas.

Some of the concerns raised were who should appoint a deputy DPP, the training of staff and whether the DPP should be the one responsible for asking officers to conduct investigations into certain issues. These were addressed during the committee stage of the proceedings.

Attorney General and mover of the Bill Steadroy “Cutie” Benjamin said this move was initiated by former attorneys general, and that consultations have been held with the relevant stakeholders including members of the bar and the police.

Benjamin said it had often been the opinion of many that it was a conflict of interest for police officers to investigate and prosecute those same matters.

He noted also that persons were of the view that officers could be tainted by prejudice, they could be spiteful and bring charges against individuals that should not have been laid in the first place.

According to the attorney general, the Criminal Prosecutions Services Bill 2017 was passed to bring an end to these longstanding fears.

“As the principal prosecution agency in Antigua and Barbuda, this agency will be known as the  Criminal Prosecution Services, and will be responsible for criminal cases beyond the police investigative stage, it will advise the police on cases…review cases submitted by the police, prepare cases for the court and present them to the court-both the Magistrates’ Court and in the High Court.

Importantly, the Criminal Prosecutions Service will review the evidence gathered by the police and provide guidance,” Benjamin said.

Following investigations by the police and other agencies, case files will be prepared and then submitted to the independent agency (Criminal Prosecution Services) headed by the DPP with a team of qualified lawyers for trial.

The Bill also provides for an expansion of the DPP’s office to include, among others, a deputy DPP and research officer.

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