By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
IN a bid to shield the director of public prosecutions from undue political interference, the Minnis administration will amend the Constitution to require that all instructions from an attorney general to the director of public prosecutions be gazetted.
The amendment is a bold one for the region.
It is featured in an amendment to the administration's previously tabled Constitution (Amendment) Bill 2017, which aims to make the Department of Public Prosecutions independent.
The bill would empower the DPP to "institute and undertake criminal proceedings against any person before any court in respect of any offence against the law of the Bahamas; to take over and continue any such criminal proceedings that may have been instituted by any other person or authority; to discontinue, at any stage before judgment is delivered, any such criminal proceedings instituted or undertaken by himself or any other person or authority."
The amendment responds to criticism that the government's bill gives the attorney general power to direct the DPP based on three broad and vaguely defined categories: public policy, national security and international obligations of the Bahamas. Critics say these provide a loophole that allows an administration to undermine the independence of the DPP by making him subject to guidance of a political appointee. The Minnis administration hopes that by mandating that the directions be gazette, it has created a buffer that would discourage an administration from intervening in the DPP's work for the wrong reasons.
"The Bahamian people will immediately be informed through the media or of the specific directive, such as terms and rationale given by attorney general (when directions are given to the DPP)," National Security Minister Marvin Dames said yesterday in Parliament, although the amendment doesn't specify that the attorney general must give a rationale for his/her instructions.
"This demonstrates that ours is a government of transparency and accountability. This amendment directly follows the provisions of the law of Canada which will be a first of our region. We are not only a government of transparency, accountability and maturity, we are also a pioneering government and we are demonstrating it through the bills we seek to bring to this House."
One criticism of the bill for which it is unclear that the administration intends to respond is that it makes the DPP eligible for two five-year terms of appointment.
Some countries in the region, like Barbados and Jamaica, appoint directors until retirement age. Critics are concerned that the DPPs eligibility for a second five-year term increases pressure on him/her to consider the political implications of actions in hopes of securing a second term of appointment.
The Canadian Act respecting the office of the director of public prosecutions, which Mr Dames mentioned as a blueprint for some provisions in his administration's bill, grants that country's DPP a single seven-year tenure with no eligibility for a further term.