Unsworn statements from the dock should be abolished

Dear Editor,

The law of Guyana provides a right for an accused person to make an unsworn statement from the dock in his/her defence at trial.

Section 52(h) of The Evidence Act, Cap. 5.03, provides – “nothing in this Act … shall affect any right of the person charged … to make a statement without being sworn.”

The accused person who makes such a statement, is shielded from cross-examination by the prosecutor, or from challenge by attorneys for any other co-accused person, as the statement has not been made on oath or affirmed. As a result, grave injustices can and do occur where an accused person cannot be cross-examined or prosecuted for perjury, in the event of a false unsworn statement being made from the dock, which may cast the blame on any of the prosecution witnesses, and/or on any co-accused or co-accused’s witnesses. Such grave injustices are in contravention of a co-accused person’s constitutional right to a fair trial, enshrined in Article 144 of the Constitution, Cap 1.01.

The right of an accused person in a criminal trial to make an unsworn statement from the dock was abolished in England and Wales in 1982, and has since been abolished in several Caricom states and dependent territories, including Anguilla, The Bahamas, the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, St Christopher (St Kitts) and Nevis, St Lucia, St Vincent & The Grenadines, Trinidad & Tobago and the Turks and Caicos Islands.

I accordingly recommend that the right to an unsworn statement from the dock should be abolished in Guyana.

Yours faithfully,

Colin Bobb-Semple

University of West London

Attorney-at-law (non-practising)

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