The Government is expected to table the Criminal Law (Procedure) (Amendment) Bill 2022 in the National Assembly, which seeks to remove the power of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Shalimar Ali-Hack, SC, to direct a Magistrate to commit an accused person who has been discharged at the end of a Preliminary Inquiry (PI).
This new Bill comes on the heels of a March ruling by the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) - the country’s highest court – that the DPP cannot direct a member of the judiciary to commit any discharged person.
Following a PI, Magistrate Renita Singh discharged US-based Guyanese Marcus Bisram, who had been charged with the capital offence of murder, after finding insufficient evidence to put him on trial.
However, the DPP immediately directed the Magistrate to reopen the PI with the review of committing him to stand trial in the High Court for the 2016 murder of Berbice carpenter Faiyaz Narinedatt.
Bisram, who contended that the directive was unlawful, challenged the DPP’s decision, which resulted in the matter going all the way to the CCJ.
The CCJ, in its ruling, held that “a law that renders the Magistrate’s professional decision-making subject to the dictates of another official cuts straight through Article 122A [of the Constitution] and must be declared void to the extent of its inconsistency with that article.”
Article 122A (1) states that all courts and persons presiding over the courts shall exercise their functions independently of the control and direction of any other person or authority and shall be free and independent from political, executive, and any other form of direction and control.
To rectify the inconsistencies with the Constitution, the Trinidad-based Court suggested that the DPP seeks permission from a Judge of the High Court to prefer an indictment without a committal, and the Judge may do so only if there is sufficient evidence supporting the charge.
It is also recommended that after considering the evidence given in the committal proceedings, the DPP can apply ex parte to a Judge of the High Court to obtain a warrant for the arrest and committal of the discharged person.
The Judge would grant the application if the evidence, as given before the Magistrate, was sufficient to put the accused person on trial. The last suggestion was for an appeal to the Court of Appeal on the point of law, the dismissal of a charge against an accused person in committal proceedings.
In light of this, the Government on Friday said it intends to table a Bill in the National Assembly seeking to amend Section 72 of the Criminal Law (Offences) Act in keeping with the CCJ’s recommendation.
A copy of the Bill has been dispatched to the DPP, Senior Police Legal Advisor Sonia Joseph, President of the Bar Association of Guyana, Pauline Chase, and President of the Berbice Bar Association, Horatio Edmonson.
The Bill will allow the DPP if aggrieved by the decision of a Magistrate at the end of a PI to discharge an accused person, to make an ex parte application to a Judge of the High Court for a warrant to arrest and commit the released person for trial.
The Judge may only grant that application if they are of the view, from the evidence placed before the Magistrate who discharged the accused person, that such a course of action is required.