Tuesday, September 9, 2008

The Gilhuys decision

The Gilhuys decision
Stabroek News Editorial. September 8, 2008

While the decision of the DPP’s Chambers not to recommend any charges against Magistrate Gordon Gilhuys over the shooting of a policeman has been considered on its merits, it cannot be divorced from the milieu in which it has been introduced.

Guyana is wracked as it has never been in its post-independence history by bloody, pernicious and unrelenting crime – most savagely underlined by the three massacres this year which claimed 31 lives. Each and every day gun crimes are being reported: murders, robberies, woundings and domestic violence – many with unlicensed weaponry and fuelled by the ease with which guns can be smuggled, procured and rented in these parts.

Moreover, it is broadly accepted that respect for the rule of law has been so systemically undermined that impunity is the order in the day, not only in the cartels, gangs and amongst the petty criminals, but in every other sphere of life: on the roads, in the schools and in everyday interactions. A society in which the rule of law is so disdained is in serious danger and can ill afford any further erosion.

When Magistrate Gilhuys was implicated in the shooting of policeman, Corporal Mark George, it immediately raised that age-old question that all law-based societies face: will citizens of stature – and particularly in this case, a member of the bench who has undoubtedly presided over cases like this one – be treated the same way as the less powerful in the society?

In this case it was pivotal that justice not only be done but that it was seen to be done. Unfortunately the manner in which this investigation was conducted and the final decision made by the DPP’s Chambers can only lead the citizenry to shake their collective head in dismay and utter as they might, “Yuh see, is de same thing I seh.”

First, considering the general circumstances of the incident and the shooting of the policeman that night on Woolford Avenue, had it been an ordinary citizen he/she would have been hauled forthwith before a magistrate the very next day or quite soon thereafter. There would have been no need for a referral of the case to the DPP at all. Commissioner Greene’s explanation that where cases revolve around policemen they prefer another opinion is completely invalid and unconvincing considering that in less clear-cut cases involving the police charges have been preferred without reference to the DPP.

Second, in the matter of the allegedly unlicensed firearm that was used there has still been no explanation why a charge was not laid, even if the said firearm was not the one which injured Corporal George. Will one be provided?

Third, the DPP’s assertion that deficient statements were presented by the police warranted the strongest possible rebuke of the police and a demand that the deficiencies be cleared up by the errant officers. Why was this not done and publicized by the DPP before a recommendation was made for no charges?

Fourth, the disclosure that Corporal George had importuned the DPP not to institute criminal proceedings and had volunteered that the shot fired by Magistrate Gilhuys had not struck him is exceedingly unusual and would do nothing to defuse concerns that compensation to complainants is leading to the termination of criminal proceedings.
Fifth, more than two months elapsed in a relatively straightforward case before the police and the DPP could finally pronounce on this matter. What type of criminal justice system is this?

Sixth, if no charges were to be brought against Magistrate Gilhuys, then the public should logically deduce that the conduct of the police that night was most unprofessional: that they improperly proceeded along Woolford Avenue, that they improperly stopped there, that they improperly approached the vehicle, that they improperly fired at it and in the ensuing two months they could present nothing to their superiors or to the DPP’s Chambers to make a convincing case that they had acted appropriately.

All of the above will further degrade the already shaky foundations of the rule of law in this country. It also shines a light on a now frequently used practice by the police when they want to avoid taking tricky decisions: send the file to the DPP’s Chambers. This was the case with another unsavoury circus – the shooting and wounding matter involving Minister of Local Government, Mr Kellawan Lall. That matter ended similarly, a recommendation of no charges. The technique has also been employed by the police in another matter of public interest at Unity where a well-connected and well-known businessman in the village allegedly shot up the house of a neighbour and menaced its occupants. The result in this case will be awaited with much interest.

In her reply to the news items on the decision on Magistrate Gilhuys, the DPP, Mrs Shalimar Ali-Hack contended that the reports had been carried without any recourse to her office. Stabroek News completely rejects this assertion. Mrs Ali-Hack’s secretarial staff has not served her well. There have been numerous queries by Stabroek News to her office on a range of matters which have gone unanswered. Since it is more than likely that her office will soon have extended powers as it relates to plea bargaining and many more questions will therefore arise, we suggest that the DPP urgently set out publicly what the arrangements are for the press accessing her office for information on ongoing investigations and other matters so as to avoid any further misunderstanding.

The public now needs to hear from the Judicial Service Commission on this matter involving Magistrate Gilhuys. There should be no quiet sweeping of this matter from the sight of the public. It has already gouged an enormous hole in the public’s confidence in the rule of law.

Article printed from Stabroek News: http://www.stabroeknews.com

URL to article: http://www.stabroeknews.com/editorial/the-gilhuys-decision/

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