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Director of Public Prosecution (DPP), Sejilla Mc Dowall’s announcement, last Thursday, that she has “addressed my mind to the retainer of a prosecutor” for the Cornelius John shooting case has evoked memories of a similar call by Opposition Leader Godwin Friday on June 3.

However, Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves said, on Sunday, that there is a difference between what the opposition leader and the DPP are proposing.

“As a Minister of Justice, I am cognisant that justice has to [be] done and seen to be done. I have already addressed my mind to the retainer of a prosecutor,” the DPP said.

Her comments were included in a statement in which she announced criminal charges against Assistant Director of Public Prosecution, Karim Nelson; Senator Ashelle Morgan; and, John.

The charges stem from an incident in which John was shot at his home on April 13. John is also charged with threatening his wife, Nicole John, and Morgan on the same day.

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Nelson is charged with wounding John and discharging a firearm at him, while Morgan is charged with assaulting John with intent to wound.

In a June 3 press statement, the opposition leader noted what he and other members of the public had said was a delay in the laying of charges in the case.

He noted Nelson’s position in the prosecution service and that he is a former prosecutorial colleague of Commissioner of Police, Colin John, a former assistant DPP.

Godwin Friday
A screenshot of Opposition Leader Godwin Friday at a press conference earlier in June.

Friday said that when such circumstances arise in SVG or elsewhere, it is necessary to install other persons who are not affected by these concerns to conduct the investigation and, where necessary, the prosecution of the matter.

“If it is that the commissioner of police and the DPP cannot do their jobs because of a conflict of interest or other reason, then they must recuse themselves and other persons must be appointed to lead the investigation and any prosecution that might flow from that investigation.”

On Sunday, on WE FM’s “Issue at Hand”, Gonsalves was asked whether the DPP and the opposition leader were speaking about the same thing regarding retaining a prosecutor.

“Different thing. Different thing,” the prime minister said.

“What the DPP is saying …I don’t think in light of this matter — and I think she is directing her mind particularly since Karim Nelson is assistant DPP to have somebody from her office do the prosecution – [that] she is thinking of hiring an outside counsel to conduct the case in the court. But it’s always under her direction and control”

Asked how this differs from what Friday was calling for, Gonsalves said:

“The Leader of the Opposition was calling for a special prosecutor to investigate the matter, to deal with the decision in relation to the charging. He is watching too much American Law & Order TV. The special prosecutor is, in fact, the director of public prosecution. You see what I mean? That’s an entirely different matter.”

Ralph Gonsalves 2
Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves. (File photo by Lance Neverson/Facebook)

The prime minister said that the DPP would, no doubt, first consider a prosecutor from within St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

“I think she would probably try to exhaust her possibilities here and if she doesn’t see, in her view, any suitable possibility, she could ask for somebody who is entitled to practice here, from outside but that may not be necessary, because she may well find somebody from inside of here,” said Gonsalves, who is also Minister of Legal Affairs.

“And she will either have money in her budget, in the estimates under consultancy or something of the sort under which she can pay them from and if that money is not enough, she would apply it to the Ministry of Finance through the permanent secretary responsible for this because she is an autonomous department.”

Gonsalves noted that the DPP’s office is an independent department but in order to access monies, has to do so through a permanent secretary and the director general of finance and planning.

The prime minister reiterated that the DPP’s suggestion is different from the leader of the opposition’s.

“The leader of the opposition … explicitly said that if the police or the DPP can’t do their work, appoint a special prosecutor. Obviously the police and the DPP have done their work. Now, she is saying, in the actual conduct of the case, get somebody,” the prime minister said.

“You just hire somebody but they are under her control and direction, obviously. And that person, professionally, would make decisions in the case as the case is going on: which witness to call, which witness not to call, how to cross examine, how to do this, how to do that. That is what she says she is giving consideration to.”