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DPP considering appointing outside prosecutor

DPP considering appointing outside prosecutor
Left to Right: Cornelius John, Senator Ashelle Morgan & Assistant DPP Karim Nelson

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More than 10 weeks after businessman Cornelius John was shot in his leg, the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) has advised the Commissioner of Police to lay charges against three individuals.

DPP considering appointing outside prosecutor
Sejilla McDowall

DPP Sejilla McDowall, in a release issued yesterday, said charges of wounding and unlawful discharge of firearm in respect of complaints by Cornelius John, will be laid against Assistant DPP Karim Nelson; Senator Ashelle Morgan will be charged with assault with intent to commit wounding in respect of a complaint by Cornelius John; and John will be charged with using threatening language in respect of complaints made by his wife Nicole John and Senator Morgan.

Nelson, Morgan and John are expected to make an appearance at the Serious Offences Court day, to answer the charges which relate to an incident which is alleged to have taken place at Diamond on April 13, 2021.

In the release, the DPP said she is “cognizant that justice has to done and seen to be done,” and is therefore considering appointing an outside prosecutor to try the matter.

McDowall said she first reviewed the statements in the matters on May 19 and gave directions for further investigative work to be done.

“I again reviewed the statements on the 28th of May 2021. Thereafter, the casefiles were resubmitted to the Commissioner of Police on a number of occasions and this was detailed by my Memoranda dated 2nd June 2021, 11th June 2021 and 16th June 2021. In response, I have been furnished additional material from stage to stage, up to today’s date. This process will be ongoing as all casefiles remain subject to continuous review.”

Given the involvement of two prominent public officers in this matter, it has dominated discussions on talk radio, social media and in the press since early May.

McDowall said she appreciates “that the matter has caused much public disquiet and widespread alarm, given the nature of the allegations; a fraction of which have been publicly discussed.”

She therefore had to approach the matter with swiftness, whilst “guarding against a rush to judgement, bearing in mind the interweaving facts and interests.”

The DPP however stressed that her Office is an independent constitutional office, not subject to the direction or control of any other person or authority.

“For the avoidance of doubt, I wish to dispel any assumption that the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (National Prosecution Service) is an extension of any Ministry, organisation or other office, particularly the Royal Saint Vincent and the Grenadines Police Force. The role of the Police is to investigate while a Prosecutor advises on, not conduct, criminal investigations and prosecutes matters at various courts (that is, lead the case against the accused).”

McDowall said she resubmitted the casefiles on the dates mentioned “for further lines of inquiries to be satisfied, so that I can come to a decision that is comprehensive and justified.”

She reiterated that it is her professional obligation to “act judiciously: without fear or favour, malice or ill will; regardless to the persons involved. I will not descend nor will I condescend. It is my obligation to uphold and maintain the integrity of the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (National Prosecution Service) as the Chief Prosecutorial Officer.”

The DPP said she has submitted “a comprehensive written Opinion to the Commissioner of Police as I do in all instances of cross-complaints,” and indicated that there are a number of witnesses who provided statements in the matter.

“In the court process, facts, circumstances and legal arguments, can be properly distilled.

“Upholding the sanctity of the Constitution, there should be no improper pressure or influence on, or interference with, the exercise of the powers of the Director of Public Prosecutions, by any entity or individual. I have purposed to divorce myself from public discourse and I am not swayed by any politicking that may intently or inadvertently, directly or indirectly, serve to influence my decision making.

“As a Minister of Justice, I am cognizant that justice has to be done and seen to be done. I have already addressed my mind to the retainer of a prosecutor.”

On Tuesday April 13, 2021, John, a businessman who lives at Diamond, was shot; he said he was also beaten and threatened.

John said that Senator Ashelle Morgan was one of three persons present during the incident, but he does not know the identity of the person who shot him.

It is alleged that Assistant Director of Public Prosecutions (ADPP) Karim Nelson was present during the incident, and he is said to have immediately taken leave from his job.

A third man said to have been at the scene when John was shot, has still not yet been identified.