Bill tabled to revoke DPP’s power to direct magistrates

DPP Shalimar Ali-Hack, SC

The government has tabled a Bill to amend Section 72 of the Criminal Law (Procedure) Act, the law which empowers the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) to direct a magistrate.

The Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) had earlier this year ruled in the local case of Marcus Bisram v the Director of Public Prosecutions that a law that renders a magistrate’s professional decision-making subject to the dictates of another official cut straight through Article 122A of the Constitution of Guyana, and therefore declared it unconstitutional and void.

Article 122A (1) states, “All courts and all 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.”

Section 72 of the Criminal Law (Procedure) Act outlines the procedure for the committal of an accused person to stand trial. It confers the DPP with the authority to direct a Magistrate, after the discharge of an accused person at the end of a preliminary inquiry (PI), to reopen the said PI and commit the accused person once the DPP believes a prima facie case has been established.

Section 72 of the Act will be amended in the manner recommended by the CCJ—Guyana’s court of last resort. With the amendment, the DPP, if aggrieved by the decision of a Magistrate to discharge an accused person at the end of a PI, can now make an ex-parte application to a Judge of the High Court for a warrant to arrest and commit the discharged person for trial.

The judge may grant that application only if he/she is of the view, from the evidence that was placed before the Magistrate who discharged the accused person, that such a course of action is required. If the DPP or discharged person is aggrieved by the Judge’s decision, an appeal against that decision shall lie to the Court of Appeal of Guyana.

Prior to the Bill being tabled on Monday, the government in keeping with its policy of consulting with important stakeholders on matters of national importance, sent copies of the Bill, along with an invitation for their comments to the DPP Shalimar Ali-Hack, SC; Senior Police Legal Advisor Sonia Joseph; President of the Guyana Bar Association, Pauline Chase; and President of the Berbice Bar Association, Horatio Edmonson.

New laws

Since assuming office almost two years ago, the PPP Government has passed new laws and amended existing ones in an effort to keep pace with the growth of the country’s jurisprudence.

Attorney General and Legal Affairs Minister Anil Nandlall, SC, has assured that such works will continue because Guyana is a sovereign country and must tailor its legal system to meet the idiosyncrasies and peculiarities of society.

Like other Commonwealth countries, Guyana inherited its legal system from the British. Although this system is not perfect, Nandlall had previously said that “it is regarded as the most perfect man-made system in the world; that is the beauty of the British legal system.”

This, he noted, does not mean Guyana is not working on developing its system.