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DPP urges media not to blur lines between accused and convicted persons

DPP urges media not to blur lines between accused and convicted persons
Acting Director of Public Prosecutions Sejilla McDowall

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by Katherine Renton

Persons who live through “horrid ordeals” should not have to go through hearing the incidents rehashed on “Monday morning radio”.

The media should also respect the distinct line drawn between persons who are accused of crimes, and those that are convicted of them.

These were some of the sentiments expressed by the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) (Ag) Sejilla McDowall, who addressed the court at the end of the High Court assizes last Friday, December 13.

During her speech, McDowall thanked all the individuals that made the most recent 12-week assizes possible, so that 21 cases were able to be dealt with.

She also thanked the public. However, she acknowledged that many persons have expressed opinions “some of whom would never have set foot in the courtroom”. She continued that there are some persons who are “very disgruntled” in relation to the application of the new Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court(ECSC) sentencing guidelines.

“I do hope as we have more and more sentences (of persons accused of crimes) that persons would take the opportunity to sit and to digest the particular approaches especially when it comes to sentences, rather than reacting to what is published in the media,” she noted.

The nation’s chief prosecutor issued a note to the media, saying that while she commends “their efforts,” she hopes that what happens in the courtroom will be accurately reported.

“I also sound a word to the media to ensure that they take every measure possible to avoid prejudicing matters that are before the court,” she continued.

She pressed on, saying that she urges all media personnel including “those who are here” (there were at least five reporters present from various media entities) “and those who are not.”

She continued, “Those who are on the radio and are not under the sound of my voice. I am hoping that they are well aware that it is more harmful than good to be encouraging discourse on matters that cannot sometimes be confirmed.”

On these matters, the media is generating a body of facts that is at variance with evidence, and they are commenting on “hardships of witnesses out there,” the DPP stated.

“It is hard enough, especially in sexual offences cases, to go through an ordeal,” McDowall intoned.

Moreover, “these are inescapable; nobody volunteers to say “Pick me, pick me I want to be a victim of a sexual offence,” she added.

“But people who encounter these horrid ordeals should not have to live through hearing, Monday morning….I don’t want to be specific…Monday morning radio…giving them Monday morning radio time to rehash things that are unpleasant,” she concluded.

McDowall commented that this was cruel and harsh treatment.

She implored the media to be more a bit more sensitive and mindful that matters which have yet to go through the court system relate to persons who are accused of crimes. The DPP emphasized that there is a distinct line between accused and convicted persons.

“Let us not blur the lines, let us not establish Courts of public opinion…let’s just shut down some of those courts all together,” she submitted emphatically.

This does not mean that she feels that opinions should not be expressed, she stated, but she is imploring that an atmosphere of fair comment be engendered, “as opposed to all of the tribalism and the harshness that is being ventilated out there.”

She concluded that these were her appeals, said on behalf of witnesses and also “I daresay” persons accused of crimes.

“The office of the DPP, National Prosecution Service (NPS) is a ministry of justice; we are not with our pitchforks hoping that persons would perish, but what we are seeking is to ensure that justice is done,” she commented.

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