Misconduct in public office

The offence of misconduct in public office carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment. It is what is known as a ‘common law’ offence and is triable on indictment. This means that it is derived from the judge-made law of England which Guyana has legally inherited. And it is triable by jury. The maximum penalty suggests that it is regarded as a very serious offence.

While the offence can be traced back to the 13th century, a definition, given by Chief Justice Lord Mansfield in the 1783 case of R v Rembridge emphasized its importance: “… first that a man accepting an office of trust concerning the public, especially if attended with profit, is answerable criminally to the King for misbehavior in his office … Secondly, where there is a breach of trust, fraud or imposition in a matter concerning the public, though as between individuals it would be actionable, yet as between the King and the subject it is indictable. That such should be the rule is essential to the existence of the country.”

Over the centuries, the crime was characterized by vagueness. Fast forwarding to the 21st century, in 2003 in the case of Attorney General’s Reference (No. 3 of 2003) each defendant was charged with “misconducting himself whilst serving as a police officer by willfully failing to take reasonable and proper care of [A], an arrested person in police custody.”….

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