The attention of the Office of the Director of Public Prosecution(ODPP) has been drawn to a false and malicious report circulating in the social media with the title “JUDGE, ALONE TRIAL ABORTED INSTEAD OF ACQUITTAL ENTERED”. The report, among other things, states:
A four weeks murder trial that commencedon Monday 24th January concluded today Monday 21st February, 2022. It was a trial by Judge Alone (without Jury) before his lordship the Hon. Mr. Justice ShirazAziz who at the end of the Crown's case had the opportunity to dismissed or acquit the two teen defendants HURALDO DE LA CRUZ GONZALES and RODSON SAINT LOUIS due to insufficient or no evidence presented before him linking either of the two accused after four weeks. However, Justice Shiraz Aziz aborted the trial before setting the teens free…”
The above report is false, malicious and misleading in several respects:
(a) The trial Judge, Hon Justice Aziz aborted the trial and discharged himself, as it was open to him to do, primarily to allow sufficient time to deal with a vulnerable witness in a manner provided by the law so as to facilitate his available best evidence. He therefore adjourned the case to May 16, 2022 to be started before another judge or indeed himself, depending on the submissions from the Defence Counsel and Prosecution. His decision to abort the trial was to ensure that the trial was fair to all concerned – the Victim, Defence, Prosecution, the TCI Community. This is not an unusual occurrence in most criminal justice system, including TCI.
(b) At the time he aborted the trial and discharged himself, the Prosecution’s case had not ended and could not have ended, as falsely reported. In fact, the Prosecution’s case was not even half-way gone. So, there was no basis to falsely and maliciously conclude that Hon Justice Aziz “had the opportunity to dismiss or acquit the two teen defendants, HURALDO DE LA CRUZ GONZALES and RODSON SAINT LOUIS” for insufficient or no evidence.
(c) It is also false that “Justice Aziz aborted the trial before setting the teens free”. First, the Defendants are full adults ,not teens. Secondly, they were actually remanded in custody (notset free) until their matteris called up again on May 16, 2022 as mentioned above.
It is not the policy of, and indeed, the ODPP rarely respond to comments or views expressed in the public domain relating to criminal proceedings, even when those comments or views are inaccurate. This is partly in recognition of the constitutional rights to freedom of expression, freedom to receive and impart information, etc. But these constitutional rights are not absolute, and must not be abused or misused to the detriment of other persons’ rights and the public interest, or to undermine the authority and independence of the Courts.
Thus, when such comments and views, as in this case, are calculated or have the tendency to malign the character and integrity of a judicial officer (who cannot speak for himself or herself) or undermine the due administration of justice, either in a particular case, or generally, the ODPP has a duty to set the record straight and to properly inform the public as appropriate. More importantly, it our duty to warn, and we hereby do so, that perpetrators and carriers of this kind of falsehoodmust be prepared to face the full consequences of their nefarious actions, including being cited for contempt of court. The best record of what transpired in Court can easily be obtained from the Court itself. This is the course of action we urge and encourage.
Eugene Otuonye, QC.
Directorof Public Prosecutions.