The Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (ODPP) was first established in the 1964 Constitution. The constitutional reforms which were on the agenda at the time, had provided for the conversion of the post of Procureur General into that of an Attorney General. However, the power of the Procureur to prosecute crime was vested in the newly created post of Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) which, it was agreed, would be independent of the political executive. This was made clear in the Constitution which expressly provided that in the exercise of his power, the Director of Public Prosecutions shall not be subject to the direction or control of any other person or authority.
Professor S.A De Smith in his 1964 Report as Constitutional Commissioner explained the rationale behind the independent Constitutional status of the DPP which according to him stemmed from the need “to safeguard the stream of criminal justice from being polluted by the inflow of noxious political contamination…… to segregate the process of prosecution entirely from general political considerations”.
I suspect that for administrative convenience and also due to the fact that the newly created Office of the DPP was small, it operated within the Attorney General’s Office. This administrative arrangement lasted until 2009, when the two offices were separated following the recommendation of the Mackay Report. Lord Mackay at first felt that at an initial phase, “those who support the Director of Public Prosecutions in the State Law Office should constitute a separate department reporting to and managed by the Director of Public Prosecutions and with no responsibilities except those relating to prosecution”.
In his updated Report submitted to the Government of Mauritius in September 2006, he revised his initial recommendation and was of the opinion that in the light of the judgment of Jeewan Mohit v the Director of Public Prosecutions (Privy Council Appeal No 31 of 2005), the Office of the DPP should be established as a separate Office distinct from that of the Attorney General’s Office, the more so since the Attorney General is a member of the political executive. The Law Reform Commission in its Issue Paper on the “Office of the DPP and the Constitutional Requirement for its Operational Autonomy” went further and saw this cohabitation as falling foul of the Constitution when it wrote “the current practice since independence of law officers working at Attorney General’s Office appearing for or advising DPP falls foul of the principles underlying the setting-up in the Constitution of distinct offences of Attorney General and DPP. The arrangement is unconstitutional and should be brought to an end”.
The Office has now its own budget and its own establishment. It is served by a team of dedicated, professional and hardworking staff. It is responsible at a national level for offering prosecution services. Its main aim is to bring offenders to justice and to ensure that their rights are safeguarded. It is committed to deliver a public service of high quality and ensure that a positive impact is made on people’s lives by making their communities safer.
The exercise of the discretion to prosecute offenders is at the heart of its decision-making. Under the present guidelines, law officers proceed to exercise that discretion by first asking whether there is enough evidence to provide a realistic prospect of success in each case and then go on to decide whether the prosecution is in the public interest. The second limb of the test enables officers to decide cases on public interest grounds. For instance, it may not meet the ends to prosecute an old person accused of shoplifting where the complainant has expressed the wish not to pursue the matter. Similarly, few of us would want to see a teenager with a clean record be brought to court for a minor offence and given a punishment that may have serious consequences for the rest of his life. The exercise of that discretion must be transparent and the publication of the guidelines on the ODPP’S website will assist in that respect.
Next year the ODPP will move to new premises. It will be a new chapter in its history. A new library and a lecture theatre will form part of its new working environment. Further innovations are contemplated next year when the Office moves to a digital environment in order to streamline its working practices. The shift to digital working will contribute to eliminating many of the resource heavy processes associated with paper, including photocopying, filling manual forms, locating files couriering large volumes of paper and spending valuable time matching correspondence to case files. The administration of justice is a chain system from Police to DPP and to the courts and it would be important that the e-environment in the ODPP is compatible with the process of digitalization that is taking place within those departments.
It is also my objective to set up an Education and Victim Support Unit to support victims of crime and witnesses and inform them of their rights and choices. From reporting the crime, to information about the trial process, this new unit is to focus on keeping victims informed and advising them in relation to issues such as intimidation or delay in the investigative or court process.
Mauritius has entered into an agreement with the EU to have pirates caught within the Indian Ocean region tried before Mauritian courts. The ODPP is setting up its anti-piracy unit and will be ready to prosecute cases of piracy as and when Mauritius accepts its first contingent of pirates.
This website will be an important communication tool for the ODPP. It will give the public a better insight of the workings of this Office. The press also will be better served as important decisions will be communicated via this site. Overall, it will make this Office and the decisions it takes better understood and encourage the public it serves to maintain confidence in its decisions.
Satyajit Boolell SC
Director of Public Prosecutions