Nandlall’s law books trial deferred pending CCJ ruling

Anil Nandlall displaying the new series of Commonwealth Law books he bought to donate to the State

The trial of Attorney General and Legal Affairs Minister Anil Nandlall, who is accused of stealing 14 Commonwealth Law Reports from the State, has been adjourned until October 16, 2020, pending a ruling from the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ).

Nandlall has filed judicial review proceedings at the CCJ where he is asking that the charge against him be quashed.

The charge against him, pursuant to Section 165 of the Criminal Law Offences Act, Chapter 8:01, states that between May 18, 2015 and May 29, 2015 while being a bailee, in his capacity as Attorney General under the PPP/C administration, he fraudulently converted 14 Commonwealth Law Reports valued at $2,313,853, property of the Ministry of Legal Affairs, to his own use and benefit.

He had pleaded not guilty to the charges and was released on his own recognizance (self-bail).

In November 2018, following the close of the prosecution’s case, one of Nandlall lawyers made a no case submission. However, trial Magistrate Fabayo Azore overruled the no-case submission on the basis that a prima facie case had been made out against him. As such, the Magistrate had called on him to lead a defence.

Reluctant to do so, Nandlall’s lawyers filed judicial review proceedings in the High Court which was heard and determined by Chief Justice (ag) Roxane George.

He also contended that the decision by Magistrate Azore to call on him to lead a defence in the matter is wrong. In her ruling, Justice George, however, declared that the offence is one which is known to the laws of Guyana. In fact, the Chief Justice pointed out that Section 165 of the Criminal Law (Offences) Act makes provisions for the charge.

In ruling that she has jurisdiction to hear the appeal, the Chief Justice noted that it is at the Magistrate’s discretion to overrule a no-case submission. She explained that the High Court can exercise its supervisory jurisdiction to review such a decision by a Magistrate, but only in extreme and limited circumstances.

According to Justice George, moving to the High Court for a review in such circumstance should not be routine, since it would trample upon the process of criminal trials in the Magistrates’ Courts. Nandlall had filed an appeal against Justice George’s ruling at the Court of Appeal. However, in December 2019, the Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal and upheld the ruling of the Chief Justice.

Nandlall was charged and placed before the courts in April 2017 after investigations by the Special Organized Crime Unit (SOCU) – an arm of the Guyana Police Force. He had always maintained that the law book belonged to him.

In doing so, he explained that when he was appointed Attorney General in 2011, he requested as part of his contract of service for the Government of Guyana to stand the expense for his subscriptions for the Commonwealth Law Books. He had subscribed to Lexis Nexis, the publishers of the law reports. Insisting that nothing was abnormal about the practice, he had argued that it was done by other Government Ministries such as Finance and Health.

He had expressed awareness that for decades prior, the Government had paid for professional and technical publications, journals, periodicals and magazines. He had said that the arrangement received the blessings of then Head of State Donald Ramotar.

However, investigators are contending that because the books were bought with State funds, they cannot be the property of Nandlall, and in fact, the State should not have entered into such an arrangement in the first place.

The Ministry of Legal Affairs is contending that there is no evidence of an agreement between Nandlall and Ramotar. And even assuming that there was such an agreement, they further contend that the use of public funds in that manner is a flagrant violation of the Financial Management and Accountability Act.

Nandlall had maintained that the accusation laid against him by SOCU was instigated by his Basil Williams, who was appointed Attorney General in 2015, when the APNU/AFC came into Government, and whose performance he has always criticized.