Lawyers who tamper with Crown witnesses could find themselves criminally charged and hauled before the law courts.
Director of Public Prosecutions Donna Babb-Agard has issued a stern warning to the legal fraternity for what she deemed a “growing practice” of defence lawyers engaging or interacting with state witnesses in an attempt to influence them to change the statements they give to the police to benefit their clients.
In a letter of admonishment to the Barbados Bar Association, Babb-Agard charged that defence lawyers were filing affidavits on behalf of state witnesses in which the latter purported to recant statements that implicated accused persons. These statements would have been previously recorded by police officers during the course of their investigations.
“The affidavits are customarily relied on by defence attorneys filing applications for bail in the High Court. Within the last year, there have been in excess of 15 such affidavits some of which are supposedly witnessed and stamped by Justices of the Peace in this island,” Babb-Agard wrote in her official letter.
But the DPP explained that statements taken from Crown witnesses by members of the Royal Barbados Police Force were recorded on forms that carried a preamble that stated, inter alia, that the statement was true to the best of the witnesses’ knowledge and belief, and that they made the statement knowing that if it was tendered in evidence, they were liable to prosecution if it was found that they willfully stated something which they knew to be false or did not believe to be true.
If the complainant in a criminal matter wants to withdraw a case, that individual must appear before the court and make his or her intentions known before a magistrate or judge under oath. When Crown witnesses want to correct or recant a statement previously given to the police, it is to the police that they must return. Defence lawyers are prohibited from attempting to influence state witnesses on behalf of their clients, and DPP Babb-Agard reminded the Bar Association of this in her letter.
“Witnesses who recant previous statements given to the police, in which a genuine mistake has been made should do so by returning to the police station to give an additional statement to that effect. Their additional statements to the police should disclose that witnesses have not been intimidated, threatened, coerced, or had promises or inducements held out to them, in any way, to make them alter their original statements,” she wrote.
Babb-Agard noted that justice must not only be done, but should be seen to be done. She indicated that any perceived “interference by defence attorneys” with witnesses intended to be called by the Crown must be avoided as it can be construed as conduct intended, or having a tendency to pervert the course of justice.
“Please be advised that where incidents of this nature arise in the future, I will instruct the Commissioner of Police, pursuant to the powers vested in me under Section 79 of the Constitution, to thoroughly investigate with a view of proffering charges for Perverting the Course of Justice against any person whose conduct warrants such action,” the DPP said, while urging lawyers to discontinue the practice since it was undermining the criminal justice system.
When contacted, president of the Barbados Bar Association Rosalind Smith-Millar told Barbados TODAY that the only comment she would make on the issue was that she expected all attorneys-at-law whether in private and public practice to not only behave professionally but to do everything that they could lawfully do for their clients.
“The function of the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions is clear. The function of the private defence practitioner is clear. They are to do everything that is lawful to ensure that their client receives a fair trial in a timely manner,” she said.
Within recent times a number of criminal cases have been dismissed where the complainants declined to give evidence or could not be found, witnesses recanted evidence they initially gave or police files related to the criminal cases could not be produced to the courts after years of adjournments.
Read our ePaper. Fast. Factual. Free.
Sign up and stay up to date with Barbados' FREE latest news.