The Parliamentary Opposition is raising concerns about the status of at least two constitutional agencies which were supposed to have been established by the Government but which seem to have been buried despite sums of money being budgeted for them.
During a press conference on Saturday, former Attorney General Anil Nandlall drew the media’s attention to amendments to the Coroners Act and the Law Reform Commission (LRC) for which Government had approached the National Assembly last year and had money budgeted.
“The Coroners’ Act is that Act which authorizes inquests to be done when a suspicious death occurs. You are aware that since 2016 we passed amendments to the Coroners’ Act. (The amendments) provided for a new structure that would allow for additional coroners to be appointed in every magisterial district.”
According to Nandlall, the house was told that this was a matter of great urgency and that President David Granger had made this commitment during the 2015 General and Regional elections campaign.
“Well, we are concluding the year 2017, the Act was passed nearly two years ago, and we are exactly where we were before the amendments. Monetary allocations were made for these decisions to be implemented.
On January 14, 2016, the National Assembly had passed the Coroners’ Amendment Bill 2015 after a heated and lengthy debate between the Government and Opposition.
According to the amended Bill, at present, the magistrate of the magisterial district in which an unnatural death occurs is the coroner. If that magistrate cannot conveniently or speedily be found, or is unable to act, the nearest Justice of the Peace who is able to act shall be the coroner. A coroner is defined as a public official who investigates by inquest any death not due to natural causes.
The amendments to the Act effected by the Bill do not affect the law as it stands, apart from widening the meaning of a coroner. According to the explanatory memorandum, the amendment provides for the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) to appoint fit and proper persons to be coroners for the country.
A coroner shall also have the powers, privileges, rights and jurisdiction of a magistrate and justice of the peace as are necessary for the performance of his/her duties.
In his presentation prior to the Bill being deliberated on, Attorney General Basil Williams stated that Government was moving to have this Bill passed since there were a number of families who needed closure on the death of their loved ones.
Law Reform Commission
Meanwhile, according to Nandlall “you would recall that another bill came in 2016, which sought to establish a Law Reform Commission. Again, monies were allocated, and up to now, the Law Reform Commission has not been established. So we don’t know what the status of those funds are and where are they?”
In this regard, Nandlall questioned whether the monies allocated have been sent back to the Consolidated Fund.
This publication has itself sought answers on the Law Reform Commission during successive post-Cabinet press conferences. However, Minister of State Joseph Harmon would reveal that the matter is not one which is before Cabinet.
The Law Reform Commission has one of the most vital functions of any commission in Guyana. It is supposed to reform and upgrade all possible legislation in Guyana in order to ensure they are in line with international best practices.
According to the Law Reform Act, No. 4 of 2016, the Commission will have the duty to “keep under review all the law applicable to Guyana with a view to its systematic development and reform, including in particular the modification of any branch of the law, the elimination of anomalies, and the repeal of obsolete and unnecessary enactments.”
The commission is also mandated by the law to “receive and consider suggestions for the reform of the law”. These suggestions, according to the Act, can be made on the invitation of the Commission, and can come from judges, public officials, lawyers, and the general public.
The Commission also has to “prepare and submit to the Minister specific programmes for the examination of different branches of the law with a view to reform, including recommendations as to whether such examination should be carried out by the Commission or some other body.”
In order to fulfil its functions, the Commission is allowed to set up “law reform committees” that would examine particular aspects of the law to make their recommendations. Staffing of these committees, according to Section 8 (2) of the Act, does not have to be restricted to legal professionals.
Speaking on the LRC, Attorney General Basil Williams had argued that the Commission would undo the laws Guyana inherited from the United Kingdom before independence. “Many (of which) are archaic and irrelevant to our society,” he had said.
There are a number of legislative acts likely to be scrutinised and changed if the Commission comes on stream. These include laws pertaining to the Public Procurement Commission (PPC), laws criminalising same-sex relations, and laws regarding possession of marijuana.(Jarryl Bryan)