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Why no DNA database yet?

By JULIEN NEAVES Friday, April 25 2014

DIRECTOR of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Roger Gaspard yesterday asked why is it taking so long for a DNA (Deoxyribonucleic Acid) database to be established in this country.

“Why is it taking so long to establish a DNA bank or database so the State, the defence and the Courts might be able to more quickly determine where the truth lies and therefore embrace plea bargaining,” Gaspard asked.

He also questioned why within the last ten years, prosecutors could on so few occasions, “enjoy the luxury” of having fingerprint evidence to rely on. He asked these questions at a Plea Bargaining workshop hosted by the United States Embassy and held at the Radisson Hotel, Port- of-Spain.

He noted that Attorney General Anand Ramlogan had described plea bargaining as the saving grace in the United States legal system. He questioned whether this was because of greater reliance on scientific evidence when constructing cases for prosecution compared to this country, or greater emphasis on proper resourcing, outfitting and staffing of key office holders and stakeholders such as forensic science centres, prosecution officers and public defender officers than what obtains locally.

He also questioned the efficacy of witness protection programmes in the US compared to Trinidad and Tobago.

“Are we comparing a pear with a mango or are we comparing a green mango with a ripe pear,” he asked rhetorically.

Gaspard noted delays in the administration of justice were an injustice both to the accused — whether innocent or guilty — the victim and the State. He said Government needs to “quicken the pace” not just legislatively, but infrastructurally, “if our criminal justice system is to be given a new lease on life.”

He also noted a burning need to improve human resources both in terms of morale and tangible emblems of compensation and a definite need for more attorneys and prosecutors to staff the DPP office and Legal Aid Department.

Ramlogan, at the same workshop, responded to some of Gaspard’s concerns in his speech. He reported that Parliament is debating amendments to the DNA Act and the Police Service Act for fingerprinting, “to allow for the proper creation of a DNA database.”

Ramlogan said Government have put in the schedule of the DNA Act a host of public offices starting with law enforcement agencies such as the police, prison officers, members of Defence Force, Immigration Officers, Fire Services, so that by law they will be mandated to provide a DNA sample and fingerprint.

“If you are part of the problem you can never be part of the solution. So we want to weed you out early o’clock if that is the case,” Ramlogan said. He also reported that Government has invited tenders for Electronic Monitoring Bill and the implementation of ankle bracelets as another sentencing option to ease overcrowding and backlog of remanded prisoners and create a non-custodial sentencing option.

On salaries, Ramlogan said those involved in the administration of justice must be happy and feel respected by the State, “or you cannot expect a successful application and enforcement of the law.”

He noted that Government recently accepted proposals and recommendations of the Salaries Review Commission report for an increase in salaries for judicial officers.

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