In a signed statement issued yesterday, Gaspard warned that “to continue to do so could lead to injustice and render the media liable for contempt.”
Gaspard expressed grave concern about closed circuit television (CCTV) footage that was displayed in the electronic and print media earlier this week which purport to show persons engaged in criminal activity.
That footage of persons being robbed, as well as someone being shot, on Nelson Street, Port-of-Spain was shown to members of the media on Tuesday at a news conference at the Office of the Prime Minister in St Clair, following a meeting of the National Security Council (NSC).
Deputy Police Commissioner Mervyn Richardson described the footage to the media.
Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, who chairs the NSC, attended the conference. She told reporters the footage was among the surveillance which was before the NSC when the decision was taken to call a state of emergency.
“We share this with you today so that you could have some idea of the information that was brought before the NSC,” she said.
The footage was released, a day after 21 men from Nelson Street were freed of the charge that they were gang members after the DPP advised the Chief Magistrate that the State had insufficient evidence against the men.
In his statement yesterday, the DPP observed that some sections of the media purported to identify some of the persons in the CCTV footage; media releases in some instances presented criminal profiles of persons and other news reports showed police officers calling upon members of the public to make reports of the crime/s shown in the footage “with a view, presumably, to prosecuting suspects that could be identified.”
Gaspard reminded the media and the wider public that “the rule of law dictates that every citizen of this country is constitutionally entitled to a fair trial by an independent tribunal.”
“This is part of the protection of the law and due process guaranteed by the Constitution. Any publicity that impinges on that process and so prejudices the fair trial of any person who is charged or likely to be charged with a criminal offence is legally unacceptable and must be deprecated,” the DPP said.
Gaspard explained that the in its ruling in the case of Boodram vs the AG of Trinidad and Tobago 1998, the Privy Council said, “the DPP has a duty to take measures to protect the administration of justice from abuse such as prejudicial pre-trial publicity.”
“The onus is on the DPP, the authority constitutionally in charge of all prosecutions, to enforce this power of protection,” he stated.
Gaspard said if the DPP fails to protect the administration of justice by dealing with those who are in breach, “he leaves the way open for unbridled prejudicial publicity which could lead to a permanent stay of the criminal matters concerned.”