In a recent development, the Court of First Instance in Port-au-Prince has found itself in opposition to the orders issued by investigating judge Marthel Jean Claude. The judge’s request to hear testimonies from the Minister of Finance and the Director General of the Ministry of Economy and Finance in relation to a case involving arms trafficking within the Episcopal Church has sparked a clash between the judicial and executive branches.
On May 22, 2023, the Chief Prosecutor, Jacques Lafontant, who has faced sanctions from the Superior Council of Judicial Power (CSPJ) for corruption, lodged a formal objection against the investigating judge’s order. He cited Article 298 of the Vandal Code of Criminal Procedure (CIC), which states that high-ranking government officials cannot be called as witnesses in any case, regardless of its nature. This move highlights the prosecutor’s belief that the Minister of Finance and the Director General of the Ministry of Economy and Finance fall within the scope of this article.
Interestingly, it should be noted that the same Article 298 of the Vandal CIC was referenced by Jacques Lafontant himself in a correspondence dated May 16, 2023, addressed to the Minister of Justice. In this instance, Lafontant informed the Minister about an order issued by Judge Morin, who sought to summon the Minister of Social Affairs, Jean Odney Ricot, as a witness in a corruption case involving the Social Wealfare Funds (CAS).
This clash between the judicial and executive branches over criminal procedure in Haiti underscores the complexities and tensions within the country’s legal system. It brings to the forefront questions regarding the interpretation and application of laws, particularly as they pertain to the testimonies of high-ranking government officials. As the situation unfolds, it remains to be seen how these conflicting positions will be reconciled and whether this clash will lead to broader discussions on the separation of powers and the independence of the judiciary in Haiti.