PPP/C MPs challenge DPP over discontinuation of charges against ministers

PPP/C Members of Parliament (MPs) Juan Edghill and Vickram Bharrat on Friday filed applications in the High Court challenging the decision of Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Shalimar Ali-Hack to discontinue the private criminal charges filed against two sitting ministers.

This move comes weeks after Transparency Institute of Guyana Inc. (TIGI) urged that the matter be taken before the court. 

“We…believe that the decision of the DPP can and should be challenged in court. Such a challenge will clarify the appropriate procedure and serve as a guide for future actions,” the transparency body had said while pointing out that it had been unable to verify the claims that the allegations ought first to have been reported to the Guyana Police Force for an investigation to be launched and the advice of the DPP sought before the charges were filed.

Attorney and PPP/C MP Anil Nandlall filed the applications on behalf of Edghill and Bharrat, while the DPP is listed as the respondent.

Both applicants are asking the court for a Writ of Certiorari quashing the decision made by the DPP on April 23rd, 2018, to discontinue private criminal charges of Misconduct in Public Office, filed against Minister of Public Health Volda Lawrence and Minister of Social Cohesion Dr. George Norton on the grounds that the decision is capricious, whimsical, irrational, based upon irrelevant and extraneous considerations, contrary to the rules of natural justice, unreasonable, unlawful, null, void and of no effect.

They are also asking the court to grant any other order that it deems fit and just in the circumstances.

The charges against Lawrence and Norton were the first of two sets of private charges that were filed. They were filed in the Georgetown Magistrate’s Court on April 19th, 2018.

Identical grounds were listed in both appeals.

Firstly, they contend that in the exercise of the powers vested in the Office of Director of Public Prosecutions by virtue of Article 187 (c) of the Constitution of the Co-operative Republic of Guyana, Ali-Hack is bound to act in accordance with the relevant principles of public law and cannot act capriciously, whimsically, irrationally, based upon irrelevant and extraneous considerations, contrary to the rules of natural justice, unreasonably and unlawfully.

Secondly, they say that her decision is capricious, whimsical, irrational, based upon irrelevant and extraneous considerations, contrary to the rules of natural justice, unreasonable, unlawful, null, void and of no effect.

The charge brought by Edghill against Lawrence related to a controversial $605.9 million drug purchase last year for the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation from Ansa McAl Trading Limited. It is being alleged that she willfully misconducted herself in a way which amounted to an abuse of public trust without reasonable excuse or justification when she authorised or caused the unapproved single sourcing and purchase of the drugs and medical supplies.

The charge against Dr. Norton, which was brought by Bharrat, related to the contentious rental of a Sussex Street building for use as a medical bond. It is alleged that Norton in June, 2016, willfully misconducted himself in a way which amounted to an abuse of public trust without reasonable excuse or justification when he authorised or caused the rental of the property from Linden Holdings Incorporated, for the sum of $12.5 million, which has been described as “an excessive rate of rental.”

Edghill and Bharrat, in their appeals, noted that after the charges were filed, the Chief Magistrate issued a summons for Lawrence and Norton to appear before the court on April 24th. However, one day before the court date, they learnt via the press of the discontinuation of the charges.

They noted that a press statement issued by the Office of the DPP stated that the charges “concern a grave issue under the criminal law in relation to two serving Ministers. In the interest of good governance in the State of Guyana such allegations ought first to have been reported to the Guyana Police Force for an investigation to be launched and the advice of the DPP sought.”

While both appellants acknowledge that the DPP has the authority to discontinue at any stage before judgment is delivered any such criminal proceedings instituted or undertaken by any person or authority, they contend that her decision was unjust and unlawful. They say the DPP has no functional responsibility whatsoever touching or concerning “the interest of good governance in the State of Guyana.” They further said they have been advised that there that there is “no legal requirement for an allegation of criminal misconduct to be reported to the Guyana Police Force for an investigation as a precondition to the institution of any private criminal charge” and that the right to institute a private criminal charge with or without a report first being made to the Police is a “common law right of the citizenry hallowed by time.”

Sunday Stabroek understands that the DPP’s decision to discontinue the second set of charges brought against Finance Minister Winston Jordan, Public Infrastructure Minister David Patterson and Public Service Minister Dr Rupert Roopnaraine will also be challenged. Those charges related to the funds spent on the billion-dollar D’Urban Park project.

After the discontinuation of the charges, the PPP, in a statement, had questioned the DPP’s motive, saying that she had not taken a similar position in similar cases.

“The discontinuance by the [DPP] of the private criminal charges filed… and her failure to do likewise, in relation to similar charges… is a clear demonstration that the DPP has buckled under pressure exerted by a government that has caused criminal investigations to commence against her, in relation to a plot of land allocated to her, under the [PPP/C] Administration,” the party had said, while describing the reasons given as “comical at best”.

The applications have been fixed for hearing on the 10th of July, 2018, at 9.30 am before Justice Fidela Corbin-Lincoln.

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