Judge Criticizes Solomon Islands Prosecutions Office

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Prosecution office offered lesser charge without approval

By Assumpta Buchanan

HONIARA, Solomon Islands (Solomon Star, Nov. 28, 2012) – A High Court judge has hit out at the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) in the Solomon Islands over what he described as showing "little regard for the authority of the court."

Justice Stephen Pallaras took the DPP office to task when sentencing a man to six years in jail for intentionally causing grievous bodily harm to another man.

Peter Ramo, 35, was earlier charged with attempted murder. His lawyer then sought to have the charge reduced to a lesser charge.

The prosecution responded by agreeing to lead no evidence in relation to the charge of attempted murder and that a plea of guilty to the lesser charge of intentionally causing grievous bodily harm would be accepted.

However, during a direction hearing, the DPP prosecutor informed the court that the offer to the defense had been withdrawn.

Justice Pallaras said despite the court seeking an explanation for this conduct, the requests were ignored on two occasions.

"It is a matter of serious concern that the Office of the Director of Public Prosecution had little regard for the authority of the Court that it felt justified in ignoring these requests for an explanation."

He said a belated letter was received by the Court explaining that when the DPP prosecutor had accepted the plea offer, believing it to be a perfectly proper offer, he had not first sought the approval of the Director whom he believed would accept the offer.

"Nor did he tell the defense that his acceptance was subject to the Director’s personal approval."

Justice Pallaras said the accused, having been prepared to plead guilty to the lesser charge and after having been assured that he would not be prosecuted for attempted murder and that his plea offer had been accepted, was then informed that the DPP had reneged on the agreement.

He added that because of this, the accused had to go through a trial and that the community has been forced to meet the cost of the trial that might have been avoided.

However, on another side to what has occurred in the trial, Justice Pallaras said the accused could have offered to plead guilty to the lesser charge before him but he chose not to.

"He might have also chosen to testify in a way that demonstrated an appreciation of what he had done and an acceptance of his responsibility for his criminal actions.

"But again he chose not to and denied that he had the intention to harm the victim and that most of the injuries were accidental."

Responding to the concerns yesterday, Director of Public Prosecutions, Ronald Bei Talasasa, said the prosecutor who had the initial carriage of the matter of Ramo had transferred to another office.

"I am aware that on 28 August 2012 he sent the DPP an opinion which is a usual practice in the office, just like every other DPP offices in the world," Mr. Talasasa said. "That opinion is a legal opinion which outlines the case scenario and what the prosecutor recommends is the appropriate charge."

He said the DPP on receipt of the opinion makes his own assessment of the evidence and decides on the appropriate charge.

"That is what happened in this matter. I responded to the prosecutor on 31 August by way of a minute that I preferred the charge of attempted murder. Hence, the charge of attempted murder was pursued and that is perfectly in order," Mr. Talasasa said.

He said he had reminded his staff not to agree to any plea bargain until the DPP is consulted.

"That is a fundamental rule that regulates the decision making process in the office."

The DPP said he had a lot of confidence in his staff and he believed they bear that in mind at all times.

"In relation to the non-response to the High Court as was directed that is a matter that my office is collecting its record of correspondence to verify what is stated in the judgment.

"If it is an omission on the part of the office I will apologize for it. What I have been told by my staff is that there has been an explanation sent by the due date but that I will need to verify by perusing the actual correspondence."

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