Court of Appeal bill for Committee
-Opposition calls it ‘political legislation’
Thursday, 24 July 2008 23:43 Guyana Times
The National Assembly last night sent the Court of Appeal amendment bill to a Special Select Committee after opposition parliamentarians rejected it, deeming it an oppressive piece of legislation, which will add clutter to an already sluggish judicial system.
The House made the decision after close to six hours debate on the bill which will give the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) the right to appeal decisions by a High Court Judge.
But opposition MPS said the bill was a political legislation, taking away the constitutional rights of a person and adding burden to a judicial system that is already taxed.
Raphael Trotman, Alliance for Change (AFC) Leader said he believes that the Bill should be withdrawn and his party will not take part in any Special Select Committee (SSC) process since nothing can be done to change the oppressiveness of the Bill.
He said that the government should explain to its citizens the real reason for bringing such a Bill to the House which according to him is for political reasons.
“I am saying that this Bill has nothing to do with the strengthening of our judicial system but it has more to do with the propping up of a political system that some believe is under threat.”
He said, “I believe not even Burnham who many claimed was the worst thing to have happened to Guyana would not have risked Mr. Speaker what is being risked today by this administration.” The main opposition, People’s National Congress/Reform (PNC/R) although objecting to the Bill, supported it going to going to a SSC.
Trotman said the Bill is being used as the beginning of a sinister plan to carefully and systematically roll back the fundamental rights of Guyanese. The Bill is expected to allow for the DPP to appeal against a judgment by a High Court Judge to the Court of Appeal.
If it does not succeed at the level of the Court of Appeal, the DPP can then go to the Caribbean Court of Justice.
Basil Williams, PNC/R MP in his contribution to the debate said that it would allow continued detention of a person in prison despite being acquitted by judgment of the court, or verdict of the jury.
“This Bill ought not to be passed in this House because it takes away the constitutional right of an individual to a free hearing because if the Judge is not independent and is acting in terrarium of the State the accused cannot have a fair trial.
It abolishes the right to jury trials in this country which has been here for one century and as the saying goes “if it is not broken why fix it,” Williams argued. The Bill would also allow the DPP to appeal an acquittal based on a defect in the depositions or the committal of the accused; the exclusion of material evidence sought to be adduced by the prosecution; substantial misdirection of the jury in the course of the judge’s summation; or a material irregularity in the trial.
Williams also said that he feels there is some other motive to the rush in wanting the Bill to come to the National Assembly citing the pending case of sedition accused ex-soldier Oliver Hinckson.
“There is something strange with the Bill springing up and we shouldn’t believe that this has to do with Hinckson because it might take him five years if he ends up in that…and we know that if they had their way Mark Benschop would have been convicted.”
Meanwhile, People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) MP Anil Nandalall in his presentation said that the Bill does not in any way take away or interfere with those protective facilities which the defence enjoys.
He said all the Bill doses were to confer upon the Prosecution, a right of appeal, “and of course, this right of appeal can only be exercised at the conclusion of the trial. So this Bill seeks to change nothing during the course of the trial.”
He said it confers upon the Prosecution, for the first time in the legal history of Guyana, the right of appeal at an indictable trial.
“Trials in the Magistrate’s Court, the Prosecution have a right of appeal and this right of appeal has existed for the last one hundred years. I can see no just reason nor can I conceive a convincing argument why this right of appeal should not be extended to criminal trials in the High Court.”
Members of the opposition argued that if the state has a problem with the level of work of some Judges they should put measures in place to attract better judges in the judicial system.
“There should first of all be a law reform commission to help clean up the system…This piece of legislation will only add to the mess and will be a recipe for disaster. There will end up with more convictions and less acquittals. This Bill is really frightening,” Khemraj Ramjattan AFC MP said.
Most of the opposition MPs argued that the government instead of blaming the Judges should work on ways of improving the work of investigators and prosecutors to put forward better cases.
“This administration should strengthen its prisons, police and prosecutors… I strongly believe that the work of investigators needs to be improved, that is what they (administration) should be focusing on,” Ramjattan explained. Manzoor Nadir, Minister of Labour during his contribution said that the argument by the opposition is without merit since the state cannot intimidate any Judge. He said that it’s the duty of the state is to protect its citizens pointing out that the families of victims are often forgotten.
“This is going to be a political decision…it’s not just about draconian laws…we are going to strengthen the capacity to provide justice for the family of victims.” But Ramjattan said the state, by passing the Bill, is putting a lot of power into the hands of the DPP and there is no guarantee that the DPP would not abuse that right.
“I am certain Mr. Speaker that the DPP may not abuse her rights…but it is important that we understand what will be in the mind of such a DPP and we cannot definitely be certain that it will be sparingly used …This Bill is really constituted downright torture to any accused.”
Opposition members argued that the provision for bail in the bill does not really matter since almost all of the offenses that will be affected by the Bill are non-bailable.
Among the matters which could be appealed are; treason, manslaughter, rape, defilement and other sexual offences, piracy, hijacking, money laundering, robbery, drug offences, burglary, housebreaking, theft, offences involving dishonesty, firearms offences, conspiracies and attempts to commit offences referred to previously; and aiding and abetting.
“Often times, it is believed that justice is only about the interest of the accused person…Justice is not a one way street but is dual carriageway which must accommodate, in a balanced way, the interest of the accused along with the interest of the State, Nandalall said.
The Bill makes provision for the DPP to appeal against a sentence passed on a convict, on the grounds that the court had no power to pass it; it was manifestly inadequate, or wrong in principle.