By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE Minnis administration tabled the first Bill of its tenure yesterday: a Constitutional Amendment Bill to establish the independent Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions.
Making the Department of Public Prosecutions free from interference has been a long-standing policy goal of the Free National Movement and has consistently been endorsed by Constitutional Commissions appointed over the years.
The Bill tabled yesterday would not give the DPP complete freedom from interference from the attorney general, however, as it allows the attorney general to give specified directions to the DPP in any matter involving “public policy, national security or the international obligations of The Bahamas”.
Such directives must be written and signed by the attorney general, the Bill says.
Some lawyers yesterday said these exceptions could provide a loophole in the legislation that administrations could exploit.
Through the bill, the Constitution would be amended to clarify that the attorney general would be the principal legal advisor to the government.
Meanwhile, the Director of Public Prosecutions would have the power “to institute and undertake criminal proceedings against any person before any court in respect of any offence against the law of The Bahamas,” among other things.
In performing his/her duties, the director of public prosecutions “shall not be subject to the direction or control of any person or authority,” the Bill says.
The Bill also says the person who serves as DPP must be one qualified for appointment as justice of the Supreme Court. The DPP “may hold office for a period of five years” and cannot hold office beyond age 68 but is capable of of being reappointed for no more than a five-year period.
The Bill says the DPP could only be removed from office for inability to discharge the function of the office or misbehaviour.
To remove the DPP, the prime minister would have to inform the governor general, who would then appoint a tribunal consisting of a chairman and no less than two other members who would determine if the DPP should be removed.
A referendum is required to amend the Constitution once the Constitutional Amendment Bill has been passed as is expected as the Free National Movement has all but four seats in the House of Assembly.
“This Bill,” State Legal Affairs Minister Elsworth Johnson said yesterday as he tabled the Bill, “is one of the innovative and contemporary pieces of legislation that our government intends to bring.
“As an international custom,” he said, “it is trite to find in the constitution in any country that you will find an independent prosecutor. This topic of an independent prosecutor was articulated by some of our most prominent legal luminaries.”
The legislation would make it so that attorneys general can’t be consulted on matters relating to nolle prosequis, he said.
“What the Bill will do is all civil prosecutions will be controlled by the attorney general and criminal prosecutions by the DPP with some slight exceptions in matters of national security, public policy, the AG would still retain some hold of that,” he said.
The House of Assembly will resume on September 27.