Attorney General Anil Nandlall on Monday announced that a full reform of the jury system is expected to take place this year.
During his budget contribution, Nandlall posited that the administration of criminal justice is a two-way street and that the state and by extension the victims of crimes and their relatives are equally entitled to a fair trial as is the accused person.
“That delicate balance must always remain intact. The jury system is an integral factor in this equation,” he stressed.
According to Nandlall, during discussions with the Director of Public Prosecutions and representatives of the Commission on Women and Gender Equality, they reported that from their consultations, “the wider society has lost, or is rapidly losing confidence in the jury system, especially in sexual offences matters.”
He pointed out that this issue of sexual offences was raised by fellow MP Volda Lawrence in her budget presentation and that its impact has since been tumultuous. “It triggered the ban imposed on a minister from speaking and the resignation of an MP on the opposite side. That digression apart, the failure of the state to yield convictions in these types of offences is not only attributable to poor investigation and prosecution. The consultations lay blame at the jury system as well,” he said.
The Attorney General contended that statistics over the past three years with reference to sexual offences cases reveal a very important factor; victims are refusing to testify.
Citing cases from 2011 to 2013, he stated that in the years 2012 and 2013, there was not a single conviction from a total of 22 sexual offences cases. This position, he said, was not very different in non-sexual cases.
Nandlall stated that in the examination of the jury system, care will be exercised to ensure that there is no erosion of its principal objective; affording the accused a trial by peers.
“The changes will include a review of the current jury pool with the objective of expanding it. Currently, the pool is quite limited and it has been historically confined to just a few entities from which jurors are drawn,” he noted.
He argued too that the qualifications of jurors will also be reviewed since currently, they are linked to ownership of property, or earning capacity. “Both of these qualifications in today’s society are archaic and irrelevant. In the process, the unanimity verdict in relation to capital offences and majority verdict in relation to non-capital offences of the jury which currently obtains, will also be reviewed,” he said.
Recalling the recent Lusignan massacre murder trial, Nandlall said that with the nation witnessing the “travesty of what transpired”, statutory protection against jury tampering and jury manipulation will also be strengthened. “Brazen manipulation of the jury system must end now,” he stressed.
Nandlall pointed out that repeated references have been made of an intention to cut the budget “…with an axe, with a scissors and with a hatchet in clear disregard of the Chief Justice’s order and in violation of the ruling.
“Therefore, the majority of the members of the National Assembly are essentially, by their words and their conduct, declaring a clear and unequivocal intention to disobey, ignore and defy rulings emanating from the judiciary,” he argued.
He opined that this is both legally and constitutionally reprehensible and a “most calculated and callous abrogation of the Rule of Law and an assault on our constitutional democracy.”
He contended while an appeal has been filed, it is the common law that until and unless an order of court is set aside or overruled by a court of competent jurisdiction, that order must be obeyed.
The Attorney General argued that the budget cannot be a remedy for all of the problems raised. “So, it is as if the Honourable Members of the Opposition expected Budget 2014 to be a panacea for all Guyana’s problems from Crabwood to Charity, Georgetown to Linden, Linden to Lethem and Pointaplaya to Konashen. They are simply looking in the wrong place as they will certainly not find it in Budget 2014.”
Further, Nandlall said, government has heard that there were no consultations to include the two opposition parties in the budget discussion, but dismissed these claims. He said both parties were invited more than once but they “rejected the invitation or at least they never turned up.”
APNU Shadow Minister of Finance Carl Greenidge shouted that this was “untrue to say that both parties rejected the invitation.”
Nandlall argued that this was “my information and I will stick to my information; both political parties were invited by the Minister of Finance.”
Greenidge again interjected that this was not the case and that Nandlall should ask the Finance Minister who reported the events.
President’s non assent to bills
Regarding the President’s non assent to several bills, Nandlall argued that the notion that the President is obliged to render his assent to every bill that is passed by the National Assembly, “is manifestly misconceived.
“The presidential power of withholding assent to Bills is not peculiar to the Guyana Constitution,” he argued.
He pointed out that the President did not assent to the bills, including the Local Government Amendment Bill, for several reasons.
The Attorney General contended that several deletions were made to the bill by the majority in the select committee. “…of clauses which were tabled by the Local Government Minister and in most of the instances where these deletions were made, no amendments were inserted to fill the deficiencies created by these deletions.”
He posited that if the bill is properly examined, several structural and institutional deficiencies would be identified in the architecture of the bill. “Many of the functions which the Regional Executive Officer is to perform are the subject of a particular clause in the bill. This clause has simply been deleted, but nothing has been substituted. So currently, there is no one in the bill to perform these functions,” he argued.
Another set of amendments that he said were laid out in the committee, was that to simply transfer executive power from the minister to the local government commissioner, “by simply cutting out the word minister and pasting the word commissioner without appreciating the impact it would have on the Constitution and the bill itself.”
Further, he said that the commission is not an executive agency by nature, but a constitutional body and cannot be charged with executive responsibilities.