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DPP tried to restrict media access in Almestica, Smith court cases

DPP tried to restrict media access in Almestica, Smith court cases

Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) Tiffany Scatliffe-Esprit tried to file an application in the Magistrate’s Court last week to bar the media from being present for the ‘arrest matter’ involving prison escapee Jose Almestica and the woman accused of harbouring him, Jennifer Smith.

However, after facing objections from the attorneys representing Almestica and Smith, the DPP withdrew the application and the media was able to hear the allegations against the two accused persons.

According to the DDP, her reasons for attempting to restrict the media were security related.

“As your honour is aware, public interest immunity relates to the prohibition of matters being reported on if they have a direct and negative effect on national security. Of course, the Crown, when they give these allegations, for the benefit of the accused, their counsel and the court, the Crown has to give as many details as possible,” Scatliffe-Esprit explained.

“The fact is, based on the allegations that will be read, if they are published, it will disintegrate an ongoing investigation where there are other people at large who needs to be apprehended. It is not to hinder the due process against the accused because they will be present to hear all the allegations made but for the interest of public safety, as well as the integrity of an ongoing live investigation, it is necessary under public interest immunity to restrict any reporting on the matter,” the DPP added.

Scatliffe-Esprit said she appreciates the media’s right to report on matters as it is a part of freedom of expression. However, she noted freedom of expression has never been absolute and the sensitive nature of the case formed the basis of her application.

“In order for the Crown to properly and effectively put all the allegations before the court and to allow counsel to properly take instruction at their juncture; we cannot take the risk of having the details that will be disclosed reported,” she added.

Justice wouldn’t be served if public is excluded

In objecting to the motion by the DPP, Jamal Smith — the defence counsel for Jennifer Smith — questioned whether Scatliffe-Esprit would provide the necessary authority on the grounds for her motion and if he would have a chance to raise any question from her application.

“From a basic point of view, the interest of justice would not be served if the public is excluded. Unless there is some ground that Miss Esprit is bringing that shows that there is some harm that can be done, I’m not sure what the national security interest or public policy reasons are that she relies on. But we hope to see what goes on and we then would like to raise our objection because there is a serious issue, in my view, of ensuring the fairness of the proceedings and public access to that proceeding is one way of ensuring that happens,” Jamal Smith said.

Ruthilia Maximea, the attorney representing Almestica, also raised the same questions as Jamal Smith.

“We understand the issues at hand, especially in reference to misleading the public. Conversely, in the interest of justice and a fair trial, we too join with Mr Smith to request documents in writing so we can peruse same and make a decision before the court,” Maximea said.

I was doing the Defence a favour

In response to the objections raised by the two defence attorneys, Scatliffe-Esprit withdrew her application.

“I was doing my learned friends a favour. But if they have a problem with it, let’s go ahead and put everything out there. What happens, happens. I don’t want to get any letters from counsel complaining ‘this was written about my client … that was written about my client. My client has been threatened because of what was reported in the media’,” the DPP said.

This is not the first occasion the DPP’s Office has sought to restrict or otherwise censor the media as it relates to public court matters.


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