24 Feb. 2015
On Tuesday, February 24, the Fiji Director of Public Prosecutions, Mr Christopher Pryde, offered an open lecture to USP students and staff and the general public on the topic of "Criminal prosecutions in Fiji and the Public Interest". The lecture was held in the Emalus campus conference room from 10 to 11 am.
Pryde was introduced by USP School of Law Lecturer Ms Anita Jowitt, who organized the talk as part of the School of Law’s Law and Society Open Lecture series. These lectures are intended to stimulate and enlighten the Vanuatu legal community as well as USP law students and interested members of the public.
Mr Pryde, who has held the DPP position since November 2011, explained the nature of his work and rules and policies that underlie the functions of the prosecutor’s office.
This is an “exciting time” to be a lawyer in Fiji, he said in reference to the recent free and democratic election and the promulgation of the 2013 Constitution. As a constitutionally established body, the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions is protected from the politicization of its operations or interference from the executive branch. The office has an annual budget set by Parliament and is able to make unfettered decisions with regard to staffing. Its decisions on whether to bring a case are not reviewable.
The ODPP is guided by three ethical considerations: its role and powers as set out in the 2013 Constitution (Section 117); its duties to the court, particularly as its members are officers of the court; and the guidance of in-house policy documents. The last-mentioned documents were distributed at the end of the lecture and will be added to the Emalus campus library collection. They will also be freely available for download when the DPP website is upgraded and re-launched.
As a result, the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions is able to make dispassionate decisions with regard to whether to bring charges in a particular case. Prosecutors ask two questions. First, is there evidence to support each element of the crime? If that answer is yes, then the second question is: would prosecution in this particular case be in the public interest? “Public interest” is determined from a range of factors, including whether the accused was in a position of authority, whether the crime included violence, and so on.
It sometimes happens that the first question is satisfied but the second is not, said Pryde. Prosecutorial discretion is an important component of a fair and just society. Ultimately, he said, prosecutors at the ODPP are “lawyers, not crusaders for a cause, however deserving”.
Following the lecture Mr Pryde answered questions from the audience that dealt with the role of the Fiji Independence Commission Against Corruption, how victims’ rights and witness cooperation are ensured, and what skills and qualities are most important for a successful prosecutor. Tenacity is the most important characteristic, Mr Pryde told the USP law students in attendance. Criminal cases can be upsetting and complex; a good prosecutor must be able to analyze the evidence to determine whether proceedings should be instituted in a particular case.