ST. VINCENT (Jan. 17):- Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves wants Vincentians to support him in calling for a review of laws that allow citizens to file private criminal complaints.
Gonsalves made the call on Monday, Jan. 17, as he responded to opposition criticism of a decision by Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) Colin Williams last week to discontinue six private complaints against three government ministers.
The complaints were filed last week by three candidates from the main opposition New Democratic Party (NDP) in last month’s general elections.
The Chief Magistrate had refused to issue a summons for Gonsalves and another member of his Cabinet to appear in court, saying the charges were frivolous.
Lawyers for the NDP, in response to the DPP’s move, noted that the DPP was a former Public Relations Officer for Gonsalves’ Unity Labour Party (ULP) and had practice law in Gonsalves’ firm.
The said he had a history of discontinuing private criminal complaints against Gonsalves, questioned the DPP’s ability to be objective and the public willingness to see his decisions as fair and based on the law.
“Why can’t people just accept that they are professionals who will make their decisions in accordance with their understanding of the law?” Gonsalves, who is also a lawyer and Minister of Legal Affairs, said at a press conference.
“…we seek to manufacture these problems and raise these conflicts,” he added, saying, “lawyers, who are naturally partisan, because they are advocating the side for their client, they believe that their view of the law that’s the only view which is correct”.
He said the country cannot “proceed on this basis”, adding that citizens must “demand an end” to “this kind of a pappy show… this kind of a mockery”.
“Now, from a legislative standpoint, this right to initiate private criminal proceedings clearly is being abused. We have the evidence of it being abused in an earlier case with me. We have the evidence of it being abused now with cases in relation to me and with [Minister of Housing] Clayton Burgin.
“Just think of it: … somebody goes to a lawyer and said you were down the road and you beat them up. They don’t report the matter to the police, they bring a private criminal complaint against you, a summons is issued … you have to get your lawyer … your family is worried … and when the inquiry goes on, either the person wasn’t beaten or … they mistake you for [someone else],” Gonsalves said.
“You see the mischief which can be created in this way,” he said, adding that law lord in Britain are saying that the right to bring private criminal complaints “is a historical anachronism”.
“It’s a residue from an earlier period [in] some distant part of England,” Gonsalves said.
“You don’t have any police there; you don’t have any prosecutorial services. Somebody does you something criminally wrong, the fella rides his horse and buggy, goes down to some place several miles away and files a private criminal complaint about who had done this wrong,” Gonsalves said in giving historical context to the right to bring private criminal complaints.
“But nowadays, you have organized police forces, organized prosecutorial services. The time has come for that right to be exercised only having received a fiat or authorization from the DPP. You make the complaint to the DPP,” Gonsalves said.
Gonsalves said that when a ULP candidate in the general elections was accused of wrong doing, he had advised the candidate to seek redress through the DPP rather than filing private criminal complaints under election laws.
“What I think should happen henceforth, you want to bring a private criminal prosecution, to prevent the abuse, you write to the DPP seeking authorization, to get the fiat. If the DPP says no, then you can go for judicial review of the DPP’s decision. Because that is always available to you to seek judicial review of the DPP’s decision,” Gonsalves said.
“In that way, we will stop this kind of a mockery, this kind of a pappy show and I want to urge the mass of people in this country to support this line of reasoning because for it to left as it is, more and more [is] to have an abuse and you wouldn’t like somebody abusing it against you. You will like it to be filtered through some authority source. And, I think that most people would. Because, the damage which can be done to an innocent person, as we have seen, is immense,” Gonsalves said.
Lawyer for the NDP Kay Bacchus-Browne had said last week that Vincentians should not be surprised if the ULP administration recants their right to bring private criminal complaints.