OP differs with Rohee on criticism of Chief Justice
Stabroek News news item. Friday May 23, 2008
The Office of the President (OP) yesterday distanced itself from statements made by Home Affairs Minister, Clement Rohee, on Wednesday criticizing the recent releasing of a murder accused on bail by Acting Chief Justice Ian Chang.
Justice Chang also weighed in on Rohee’s comments saying that the minister’s statement ought to be viewed as a public reassurance that the judiciary was not the subservient mistress of the executive.
Speaking at a press conference on Wednesday, Rohee said there appeared to be a disjointed criminal justice system, which was granting bail to murder accused. “We now have bail applications being granted to murder accused. The judiciary has now become totally unpredictable and case law is now thrown out of the window,” Rohee charged. He was referring to last week’s freeing on bail of a man who had been charged on two counts of murder by Justice Chang.
In a statement yesterday, OP said it had noted the concerns publicly expressed by the minister on the matter. “Notwithstanding the minister’s concerns that are a reflection of social sentiment, the Office of the President wishes to advise that the executive is unprepared to accept any contention that such a ruling actually constitutes a challenge.”
Furthermore, the OP statement said, Cabinet at its meeting on May 13 discussed the issue of granting bail. It said Attorney General Doodnauth Singh was urged to continue evaluation of the implications of bail being granted for serious and frequently occurring crimes, bearing in mind that doing so could affect the stability of society by allowing for repeated offences by persons on bail or their escape from jurisdiction of the court.
Last week, Justice Chang granted bail to a Mahaica, East Coast Demerara man who had been in court for eight years waiting trial for two counts of murder. The motion to release the man, Hemchand Persaud, was filed by attorney-at-law, Sandil Kissoon.
Persaud and Rohan Singh had been charged with the April 2000 murder of James Sancharran and six-year-old Afraz Khan. In his ruling, Justice Chang had noted that the delay in the man’s case was an error on the prosecution’s part and Persaud should not have been made to suffer for it. He pointed out that Article 139 of the Constitution provides for bail and extends such pre-trial liberties even to persons facing murder charges.
According to Justice Chang, Article 153 provided him with the discretion to safeguard the fundamental rights of an accused and as such, he was granting the man bail.
However, Rohee told reporters on Wednesday that, on the one hand, while the executive authority was insisting on draconian penalties to support other measures in the context of a holistic approach to enhance public safety and security, the judiciary seemed unconvinced and was increasingly becoming more favourably disposed to upholding the fundamental rights of accused persons. “But what about the fundamental rights of those who suffered and are traumatised for life?” Rohee queried.
He asked rhetorically whether he was to understand that if the gang members who committed the atrocities at Lusignan and Bartica were to be found, arrested, charged and taken before the courts, the magistrate or judge, under Articles 153 and 139 of the Constitution, would grant them bail to safeguard their constitutional rights.
Rohee noted that the interests of the public should also be taken into account in the dispensation of justice, adding that his understanding as a layperson was that the police considered the public interest when they arrested a person for a serious criminal offence. Similarly, he said, the court was expected to do the same when considering bail applications.
The minister argued that the executive, for its part, considered the public interest when determining policy and legislation for passage in the Parliament. “In other words, all should take public interest into account, particularly when it has to do with loss of property, life and limb as a result of the perpetration of a serious crime,” Rohee declared.
Justice Chang, in his statement, said that in a democratic state, the executive and the judiciary could not live cozily together as this was democratically unhealthy.
He added that some tension between the judiciary and executive was inevitable and must be accepted as normal, noting that it was meant to be so in the political structure of the state in which the doctrine of the separation of power inhered. “Such tension,” Justice Chang said, was a good sign of a democratically healthy state.
“It is the judiciary and not the executive which is the guardian of the Constitution,” Justice Chang declared.
Over recent months both President Bharrat Jagdeo and Rohee have been critical of certain decision made by the courts, particularly with regard to the granting of bail to suspects.