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Court to decide who will prosecute Dean Jonas case; police lay additional charge

Dean Jonas walking out of the St. John's Magistrate's Court after his first hearing

Maybe they will or maybe they won’t – it will be left to a magistrate to figure out whether the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) or the Police Prosecutions Unit (PPU) is responsible for prosecuting a case against former government minister Dean Jonas.

Mr. Jonas was charged with disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, using threatening language and battery on a police officer late February.

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On this episode of Law & Order, the first hurdle is to identify where the powers of prosecution lie and the presiding magistrate is Chief Magistrate Joanne Walsh.

When Wendel Robinson, the lawyer representing Mr. Jonas appeared in court on Friday, he took a surprisingly different take at his argument regarding whom should represent the police in this matter. Despite arguing on Monday that it was “irregular” for the DPP’s office to handle small charges like those proffered against his client, at the latest hearing on Friday, when police prosecutor Dane Bontiff came to represent the police, he argued against it.

His argument is based on Section 31 of the Criminal Prosecutions Service Act passed in 2017 which repealed Section 31 of the Police Act, Cap. 330 – the law which gave law enforcement officers the power to prosecute. Under the 2017 legislation, a Criminal Prosecutions Services Department should have been created to prosecute legal matters with guidance from the DPP’s office. But according to the attorney, it left a gap in the law by failing to address whom exactly prosecutes cases until that department is created. That department has not become operational although the former prosecutions unit was made a part of the DPP’s office.

“It is not me who say so, it is parliament,” he remarked. “Having read this statute, I realise that I may have erred there when I insisted that the police be able to prosecution prosecute this matter,” he said, explaining that as a result of the most recent act, the commissioner nor any police officer has the jurisdiction to prosecute any matter in the state. He vehemently opposed to Mr. Bontiff’s representation stating to the magistrate that he had “no locus standi” to prosecute.

“If Mr. Bontiff stands up to speak, I will forever object it because he has no legs to stand on,” he insisted.

In rebuttal, Mr. Bontiff tried to make the case that the act quoted by Mr. Robinson had not yet been made law because of a clause which stated that the act only “comes into force on such date that the attorney General determines by a notice in published in the gazette”. He claimed that although the law was published, the second component required the attorney general to give an effective start date which would make the law enforceable.

His argument led the chief magistrate to question, why then was there a change in who the former Police Prosecutions Unit reports to. Ms. Walsh however decided to defer ruling on the submissions until Monday 6th, March. It is likely that the charges against Mr. Jonas will be officially read out to him then. Incidentally, the police now plan to charge him with a fifth charge of assault.

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