KINGSTON –– A parliamentary committee, which last week accused the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (ODPP) of misleading the public about its constitutional right to have private prosecution of cases done, wants the false information removed from the ODPP’s website as quickly as possible.
Committee chairman Lloyd B. Smith, who is also deputy speaker of the House of Representatives, told the Jamaica Observer yesterday that there was consensus within the committee that the information was misleading.
However, he said that there was indecision as to whether the committee had the authority to direct removal of the information, or whether it was up to the cabinet.
“It is not only wrong, but it is also unconstitutional because it is denying citizens their constitutional right,” said an angry Smith, who represents St James Central in the House of Representatives.
“There is no question about its being misleading, because it is obvious that the public has the right [in law] to proceed with private prosecutions,” he added.
He also said he expected that his committee’s report would be addressed in the House of Representatives tomorrow, and would be followed by a request to the cabinet to have the misleading information replaced.
The parliamentary committee originated under the previous government, but had fallen into oblivion until it was reactivated this year following numerous complaints from several commissions of Parliament, including Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) and the political ombudsman, that its reports to Gordon House were being ignored.
The reference to the committee followed a row between INDECOM Commissioner Terrence Williams and DPP Paula Llewellyn over the private rights of individuals to initiate and conduct criminal prosecutions.
Williams said the public was being misled by the DPP and the courts that they could not pursue private prosecutions without the DPP’s permission. He included the issue in a special report to Parliament earlier this year, as well as during his appearance before a joint select committee (JSC) which was reviewing INDECOM’s performance since its inception in 2010.
He insisted that the ODPP and the court system were refusing citizens the right to mount their own prosecutions, in circumstances where cases suffer from the incompetence and negligence of state institutions. He said that the right to institute and conduct criminal proceedings, independently, was subject only to the DPP’s constitutional right to intervene in the court proceedings.
His statements were prompted by Llewellyn’s decision, last year, not to proceed with a case against three policemen and two civilians who were charged with the murder of an aspiring music deejay Robert Kentucky Kid Hill, who was killed at his home in Collins Green Avenue, Kingston, by the police in December, 2009.
The matter was investigated by INDECOM, leading to a Coroner’s Court decision in August, 2014, that the five accused be arrested and charged with Hill’s murder. However, a formal verdict of “not guilty” was entered by the court after the Crown, represented by Llewellyn, offered no evidence against the accused.
Among the reasons she gave for the decision was that her office found it would have been impossible to mount a viable case, and that “it would have been unethical to do so as a prosecutor, given our appreciation of the available material and the law”.
Hill’s case had taken on an international flavour after he had posted videos on YouTube asking for protection against the cops who, he said, had threatened to kill him on several occasions. This led to the intervention of several human rights bodies, including Jamaicans for Justice. This kept the government under constant pressure to respond to Williams’ charges, and eventually led to leader of the House of Representatives, Phillip Paulwell, referring the issue to Smith’s 17-man committee.
The committee sought the advice of the Attorney General’s (AG) Chambers on the issue.
The report, which was tabled in the House of Representatives last week, noted that:
“The Attorney General’s Chambers informed us that private citizens have the right to initiate and conduct criminal prosecutions. However, this right is subject to the powers vested in the DPP to take over and to continue any criminal proceedings.
“We concluded that there appeared to be an inconsistency in the information presented on the DPP’s website and the response provided by the AG’s Chambers.”
The committee reported that the attorney general said that there was no need to seek to have the right recognized in statute as “the right already exists”.
The committee recommended that the matter should be investigated to ensure that the right to initiate a private prosecution was not fettered by the DPP’s right to discontinue proceedings. In the circumstances, the committee recommended that “in order to ensure consistency, the ODPP should rectify the information posted on its website to reflect the information from the AG’s Chambers that private citizens have the right to initiate private prosecutions.
“We also recommend that the DPP should clarify to all the courts in Jamaica that private citizens have the right to initiate criminal prosecution,” the report said.