Appeal against murder committal: CCJ to hear Marcus Bisram’s case on Nov 11

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On November 11 at 10:00 h via video conference, the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) will commence hearing arguments in Marcus Bisram’s appeal against a ruling by the Guyana Court of Appeal for him to be committed to stand trial for the October 2016 murder of a Berbice father of two, Faiyaz Narinedatt.

Given the ruling that was handed down on May 31, Bisram was expected to be placed on remand, but following the filing of an appeal by him, the CCJ granted an order pardoning him from incarceration until the hearing and determination of the matter.

A further order was granted suspending the ruling of the lower court. Bisram, a Guyana-born US-based businessman was instructed to remain in Guyana and report to the Divisional Commander or Deputy Commander of Police ‘B’ Division on Monday of every week until the matter is completed. He was also instructed to lodge his passport with the Registrar of the Supreme Court of Judicature.

Appeal Court ruling

On May 31, the Court of Appeal in a unanimous decision overturned an order of certiorari granted by High Court Judge Simone Morris-Ramall in June 2020. That order in effect quashed a directive by the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Shalimar Ali-Hack, SC for Bisram to be committed to stand trial.
Justice Morris-Ramlall had issued an order of certiorari quashing the directive by Ali-Hack to Magistrate Renita Singh for Bisram’s committal and further granted an order prohibiting the DPP from bringing an indictment for murder against him in the High Court.

Following a Preliminary Inquiry (PI) on March 30, 2020, Magistrate Singh had discharged the charge against Bisram and informed him that he was free to go, after finding that the prosecution had failed to establish a prima facie case against him.

However, on the day of the discharge, the DPP exercised her powers under section 72 (1) and (2) (ii) (b) of the Criminal Law (Procedure) Act to request that the depositions be sent to her and directed the magistrate to reopen the PI with a view to committing Bisram.
The magistrate complied, and thereafter called on Bisram, who had been rearrested, to lead a defence.

At the close of the case for the defence, the Magistrate found that there was insufficient evidence to support the charge, and adjourned the matter to April 6, 2020, for further directions from the DPP.
On April 6, 2020, the DPP directed that Bisram be committed to stand trial in the High Court. This direction was duly complied with on the said date by the Magistrate. As such, Bisram was rearrested again.

Judicial review

Bisram then moved to the High Court, seeking judicial review of the DPP’s directive.
In ruling that the DPP’s directive for committal was unlawful and unreasonable, Justice Morris-Ramlall, among other things, held that the evidence disclosed against Bisram by the prosecution did not meet the required evidentiary threshold to support calling on him to lead a defence.
In fact, the Judge ruled that no prima facie case had been made out against him to put him on trial by a jury before a Judge. “…The evidence is insufficient, or, in other words, it is not of the quality that a reasonable jury properly directed could safely convict on it.”
Ali-Hack then filed an appeal against Justice Morris-Ramlall’s decision with the Appeal Court.

Jury trial

In overturning the decision of the High Court, the appellate court led by Chancellor of the Judiciary, Justice Yonette Cummings-Edwards, had underscored that the issues raised in the State’s case against Bisram would be better ventilated at the trial court by a jury.
“The issues raised, we think, would have been better ventilated at the trial court, where the trial judge would have weighed all the issues in relation to the evidence and decided whether or not it would have been left for a jury,” she had said.

According to the Chancellor, “The decision to commit by the magistrate would have had to be based on the evidence which the DPP ought to have reviewed… We are of the view that the committal proceedings by the magistrate and the directive by the Director of Public Prosecutions would not have been invalid.”

Totally discredited

Meanwhile, in her ruling, Justice Morris-Ramlall had outlined that the evidence of Chaman Chunilall was the body and soul of the prosecution’s case against Bisram and that there was no other evidence, either direct or circumstantial, linking him to Narinedatt’s killing.
“At the close of the case for the prosecution, the evidence of Chunilall was totally discredited and rendered manifestly unreliable. The evidence remained substantially the same at the close of the case for the defence,” the High Court Judge had noted.
But, citing a plethora of case laws, the Court of Appeal, in adopting the pronouncements therein, held that “It is not the judge’s job to weigh the evidence and to decide who is telling the truth, and to stop the case merely because he thinks the witness is lying. To do that is to usurp the functions of the jury…”

Evidence sufficient

The DPP had always maintained that her directive for committal was lawful, as there is sufficient evidence against Bisram to warrant a trial by a jury before a judge.
In fact, during the appeal hearing, Ali-Hack submitted that the evidence against Bisram is sufficient, and any reasonable jury, if properly directed, can safely convict.
The DPP had noted that the evidence given by Chunilall was admissible, and the issue that arises is the issue of credibility, which is for a jury to decide. “This is a proper case for a committal, for it to go to trial in the High Court,” Ali-Hack said as she urged the court to quash the High Court’s ruling.

Also, during the Appeal Court hearing, Bisram’s legal team led by Darshan Ramdhanie, QC, contended that the DPP’s directive was unlawful, as it infringed their client’s constitutional rights provided for in Articles 122 A and 144 (1) of the Constitution of Guyana and the separation of powers doctrine.

However, this contention was rejected by the Court of Appeal, which held that the DPP, in making the directive, acted within the ambit of powers vested in her under the Constitution of Guyana and statute.

Extradition

Bisram was extradited from the United States to Guyana in 2019 to face the murder charge. There was an extended fight in US courts to block his extradition. He was then charged and remanded to prison for the murder of Narinedatt of Number 72 Village, Corentyne, Berbice.

It is alleged that on the day of the killing, Bisram had a party at his home, which Narinedatt and others attended. Media reports are that Narinedatt went to the yard and was followed by Bisram, who reportedly came up behind him and started “feeling him up.”
It was reported that Narinedatt slapped and chucked Bisram, who allegedly directed his friends to kill him. According to reports, several men had beaten the carpenter and dumped his body on the Number 70 Village Corentyne, Berbice road.

It was reported that they then drove over his body on the roadway at Number 70 village Corentyne, Berbice to make it appear like a vehicular accident.

Five other men: Orlando Dickie, Radesh Motie, Diodath Datt, Harri Paul Parsram, and Niran Yacoob, are currently awaiting trial at the High Court in Berbice for Narinedatt’s murder.