Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves has distanced himself from the March 2 arrest and charge of teacher Jozette Bibby-Bowen, against whom Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) Colin Williams discontinued two charges of obscene publication last week.
Gonsalves suggested that the actions of the police were not consistent with the directive of the DPP.
He told a press conference earlier today (Wednesday) that there was a communication from the DPP to the police and that communication “would have not been consistent with any arrest at the school and charging”.
The 37-year-old teacher was arrested in the staff room of the Bishop’s College in Kingstown, where she taught Forms 2 to 5 the subjects of information technology, electronic document preparation and management and accounting.
The charges were withdrawn last Thursday, one day ahead of a scheduled court appearance, which would have come almost three weeks after the prosecution failed to disclose their evidence to the defence, as ordered by the court.
The case had been postponed from March 17 to April 17 because the prosecution had indicated that they were not ready to proceed.
After the case was discontinued last week, Bibby-Bowen was on Monday transferred to the Adult and Continuing Education Unit.
Her attorneys say they are now seeking possible compensation following her arrest.
Gonsalves, speaking at a press conference on Wednesday, said that from the moment of the arrest and subsequently, “those who have an interest not in truth but in hysteria and, in some instances, some persons who make judgment about others persons on the basis of themselves”, had said that the arrest was political and a lot of the commentary “pointed to Ralph”.
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He said some of the commentaries were that he had orchestrated the arrest to embarrass Bibby-Bowen because of what she allegedly wrote on Facebook.
“I want to tell you, and you can watch me in my eye and you can twist every which way: on this matter I had absolutely no conversation with the police or the Director of Public Prosecution to charge this lady,” Gonsalves said.
“I didn’t go through any intermediary for them to represent on my behalf what I thought. Whether I did it directly or went through any intermediary, I would have acted improperly. I have never in the 14 years plus since I am prime minister, never, spoken to the Commissioner of Police, any Commissioner, none of them can tell you that I’ve ever called them to speak to them about prosecuting somebody; I have never done it with any Director of Public Prosecution. I respect the separation of powers as regards criminal prosecutions,” Gonsalves said.
Gonsalves, who is also Minister of National Security and Legal Affairs, said that as Minister of National Security he ensures that “systems and structures are in place with appropriate funding for citizen security and for the protection of people and their reputation, where that may impinge on the criminal and not on the civil,” Gonsalves said.
“But I have absolutely nothing to do with prosecutions, charging nobody — never done it,” Gonsalves said.
He said that persons close to him would know that his immediate reaction when he heard about the arrest and charge was “‘Why are they charging this woman?’
“That was my immediate reaction. Not that some other persons looking at the matter, as indeed the police, come to some other conclusion, but that was my reaction, and particularly so when I heard that they went to the school to arrest her there,” Gonsalves said.
“Now, if you are arresting somebody at a school for something, that something has to be homicide or something of a nature which is of such great urgency that is to be dealt with then and there,” Gonsalves said even as he noted that he is not saying that the police acted illegally.
“I am not addressing the question as to the police having the right to go to the school, as indeed the Commissioner of Police defended his officers who went there within the framework of the law.”
He, however, said that a citizen and a lawyer, “I would always want to see things, and certainly in the matters in which I have a say, I would always want to see things being reasonable and proportionate, even if they are legal”.
Gonsalves said he has read carefully the public statement of the DPP, who said that he applied the Full Code Test.
The Full Code Test requires all matters to be subject to first an evidential test and then a public interest test before any prosecution is proceeded with.
The DPP has indicated that after applying the Full Code Test, he decided to discontinue the charges.
In keeping with his constitutional privilege, the DPP did not give the reasoning for his decision.
Gonsalves said that persons might conclude that in light of the development, he, as Minister of National Security, may wish to find out how it may have happened.
He said that from the advice he has received — which was not documented, there was a communication from the DPP to the police and that communication “would have not been consistent with any arrest at the school and charging”.
He also commented on the experience of the arresting officer, saying, “I note also that the persons who were assigned this responsibility, a bright, young investigator, but I want you to emphasise the word young.”
The Major Crime Unit, a branch of the Criminal Investigations Department that generally investigates homicide, conducted the investigation and arrest.
“So the questions I have in my head, how could senior investigators have had a young investigator assigned to this matter without the necessary supervision?” Gonsalves said, adding, “And this is not a case of saying that the young investigator acted on her own, because that, I have been advised, is not the case.
“You see, from my formulation in that latter part, you will conclude that the advice that I have received may well be more than what I have spoken, but I think I have spoken a sufficiency to indicate what has been the extent of my advice.
“But ordinary, normal people will say that a DPP can’t give instruction to charge somebody just a few weeks ago and a few weeks later withdraws the charge. And we all know that this DPP acts reasonable and rationally; he has a track record in that regard,” Gonsalves said.
He reiterated that he had no conversation “with anybody regarding any charge to be laid against this teacher, female teacher…
“I just had nothing at all to do with it. Clearly, right-thinking persons would say that if the allegation — I saw the posting. I don’t go on Facebook but I saw it. It was printed out and shown to me — … were true, which were made, this is a matter which the Chief Education Officer, the chairman of the Board of Governors of the Bishop’s College and the principal of the College would legitimately have an interest in is to pursue if they considered it appropriate.
“Again, the pursuit of anything like that has nothing to do with me. I have never told anybody since I am here, never requested to ask any official, to discipline a public servant,” Gonsalves said.
He said that if he hear of an issue or it is drawn to his attention, he would ask the Permanent Secretary, Cabinet Secretary or the Director General of Finance and Planning what is happening and to advise him accordingly.
“The business of disciplining public servants — and I have now moved from the criminal process in which I have nothing and I have never been involved in it — …, that is the business of permanent secretaries, heads of department, and the chief personnel officer
“I don’t get involved in these things,” Gonsalves said.