We continue our conversation regarding our justice system in our Access to Justice Series by spotlighting the role that the office of the Public Prosecutor plays in the delivery of justice. We have already discussed the critical role that the police play. If you missed it, you can read our blog post here. In that piece we asked the key question: ‘Have the Police played their roles in the delivery of justice?’ We also highlighted complaints that never got to be completed, spanning four years, starting in 2014. Simply put, the stats did and still do not look good.
By virtue of Article 55 of the Constitution, the Public Prosecutor is allowed great freedom to operate independently without influence from outside. This independence from the rest of the government apparatus and private individuals is so that the office can make sure that the rule of law is applied fairly to everyone. It is imperative that in exercising the functions of the Office of the Public Prosecutor, the office holder must not let their personal views, ethnicity, gender or religious persuasions influence their decisions. More on this critical role is provided for you in their own website. All holders of that very responsible office have done some great work in processing the prosecution of crimes against the state and providing people access to justice, especially in preparing criminal matters before offenders are brought before the courts. A successful outcome at the end of a criminal trial means that the office of the public prosecutor has covered all facets of a case so that a case is proven ‘beyond reasonable doubt’. During the early days after Vanuatu’s political independence in 1980 – those who are from that era will remember Vanuatu had quite excellent prosecutors then, up until the early 1990s when people like Jon Baxter-Wright held that office. Some might still remember that he was the last expatriate prosecutor to hold that office until his departure. Today that office is manned by a very able leader in the shape of British-based Fijian crown prosecutor Josiah Naigulevu. He took up office in August 1, 2015 at albeit, one of the most tumultuous periods of the country’s political history when the entire country was engulfed by the prosecution of then 16 parliamentarians on corruption charges. However success must be measured based on more than just one big political scandal getting justice done. Campaign for Justice believes there is more that could be done to ensure that all cases – regardless of their nature are treated equally and argued fervently before the courts. Cases that get shunted aside because they are deemed to be insignificant or minute because other more “urgent” and high priority cases should be given prominence is not justice, especially if it results in delays.
Simply put, it does not help the cause of justice if cases are prioritised according to their nature. People who launch complaints with the police over some criminal matters against them expect that due processes are followed and that those responsible are held accountable for their actions in the final analysis, regardless of their political or social standing.
C4J took time to go through a few cases published on Pacific Islands Legal Information Institute, PACLII website, which is responsible for ensuring free access to law through court decisions, to find out how long it takes for a case to actually get to be concluded, especially for Vanuatu. The results were alarming, to say the least. Below we list just eight quick ones we searched on the USP Law School-administered website. They are listed with the longest time of delay coming first while the shortest time is listed last.
1. PP vs Kalulu. Cr C No. 357 of 2018. Theft. Offending occurred between 1998 and 2002. Sentencing was made on 18th May 2018 some 16 years from the date of the offending. 2. PP vs Harold Cr C 2561 of 2017. Sexual Intercourse without consent; incest. Offending occurred between 2003 and 2009. Sentencing was made on 1st March 2018 some nine years from the date of the offending. 3. PP vs David Cr C 792 of 2017. Dealing in prohibited substance (drugs). Offending occurred in March 2013. Sentencing was made on 28th February 2018 some five years from the date of the offending. 4. PP vs Nicholas Cr C 782 of 2018. Possession of drugs. Offending occurred on 4th August 2013. Sentencing was made on 22nd May 2018 some four years and nine months from the date of the offending. 5. PP vs Johnny Cr C No. 1117 of 22018. Sexual intercourse without consent. Offending occurred on between December 2015 and 1st January 2016. Sentencing was made on 9th February 2018 some three years from the date of offending. 6. PP vs Pierre Cr C No. 3323 of 2017. Theft in 2015 & 2016. Sentencing decision was made on 8th February 2018 some two years and six months from the date of the offending. 7. PP vs Natu CrC No. 2021 of 2017. Misappropriation. Offending occurred between 30th October 2014 – November 2015. Sentencing was made on 13th February 2018, some two years and three months from the date of the offending. 8. PP vs Sesil Cr C No 2622 of 2017. Burning down of Tanna Lodge on 18th July 2015. Sentencing Decision was made on 16th February 2018. Approximately two years to deal with the matter to completion.
In no way is C4J insinuating that the office of the Public Prosecutor is or was responsible for the above delays as listed. We are fully cognizant of the fact that the administration of justice is multi-layered and usually begins with a simple complaint filed at the Police, and ends in the courts. Because the administration of justice is multi-layered, whenever there is a hold-up in the process, delivery of justice can be seriously impacted. The examples above show that the system needs to be improved greatly to bring about speedier resolution of cases so that no further harm is done to victims of crime.
Just one final sticking point: ‘who provides general oversight on the work of the Public Prosecutor so that the ideals of that office are not compromised? And more to the point, if someone is not getting the required service because a case is not being processed in time, to whom should a complainant turn? Ultimately, ‘how does one hold that office to account?’
These are questions people need to be asking because C4J is adamant there may even be cases that never get to see the light of day, even after all the hard work has been put in to collect all the evidences and then deposited. Something needs to be done about inexplicably long delays in the prosecution of criminal matters. It would seem the adage ‘justice delayed is justice denied’ is a well-worn phrase that is fast losing meaning and significance.