House approves Fugitive Offenders (Amendment) Bill
…AFC berates legislation as overruling Chief Justice
By Gary Eleazar
The House last evening, in the presence of a boycott of the People’s National Congress Reform, approved the Fugitive Offenders (Amendment) Bill despite staunch opposition to its passage by Alliance for Change (AFC) Chairman Khemraj Ramjattan.
According to Minister of Legal Affairs and Attorney General, Charles Ramson, SC who piloted the Bill, it was merely meant to clarify the existing legislation which entertained significant chaos.
He pointed out that the Bill is seeking to address an imbroglio that has its origin in the ruling of the Chief Justice (ag) as it relates to the extradition order of Barry Dataram who was wanted by the United States of America in connection with dug related charges.
According to Ramson following the request by the US Government the matter was dealt with at the magisterial level but was appealed and Chang ruled in favour of Dataram.
Ramson said that when the matter was appealed and he was then Justice of Appeal he had surmised that it could not be appealed further Chang should have been bound by a previous case in which the Court of Appeal had ruled citing the case of King versus the Director of Prisons wherein there was an inherent provision that could be drawn from a treaty between two countries.
According to Ramson, it is incumbent to recognise that this ruling by a superior court to that of the High Court has not been challenged to date and he is of the view that the amendments would lend some clarity to the principal Act.
“The objective of the exercise is to give statute to the ruling…to prevent continued rush to litigation based on the clarity that the amendments will produce.”
He suggested that had the extant law been clearer then Dataram would have been sent packing, “he would not have flown the coup.”
Khemraj Ramjattan, the lone opposition speaker as a result of the “selective participation/boycott” of the PNCR berated the presentation of Ramson calling it a dire attack on the Chief Justice. The amendments represent a second round of statutory overruling of the riling by Chang, he said.
He sated that the ruling cited by Ramson namely King versus the Director of Prisons was based on implied provisions and Chang’s ruling was based on fact.
According to Ramjattan his utterances were in no way a support of the Barry Datarams of the world, rather it was in support of the rule of law.
He stated that Dataram’s ruling was not liked by the rule of law and as such they should have approached the Caribbean Court of Justice and not move to the legislation implying that it did not bode well for the separation of powers namely the Judiciary and the Legislative arm of the government.
According to Ramjattan, Ramson was trying to statutise that what is not in the 1831 Treaty with the US is indeed there adding that, “Chang’s ruling was based on a matter of fact (not implied provisions).”
He also added that while there is need for clarity in the law the changes should have been made in an amendment to the Treaty with the United States as against the Principal.
Ramjattan accused the Attorney General of using the opportunity to add to the legislation, additional powers to the Minister of Home Affairs.
According to the Amendment the extradition order may be made should the Minister consider it necessary in the interest of Justice.
This according to Ramjattan, the law will be used by the Minister to, “cherry pick” who will be extradited from local shores upon request.
Ramjattan posited that this was setting a dangerous precedent.
He suggested that if the government were to commence statutorily overturning rulings by Judges then in future they will be reluctant to enhance the jurisprudence.
People’s Progressive Party Member of Parliament, Anil Nandlall, who supported the Bill, said that Ramjattan was wrong in his assertion that the Minister could selectively extradite in that following the order there was still the magisterial process.
According to the government MP, “When we feel that the court is wrong we legislate it and there is nothing wrong with that.”
This assertion was supported by another PPP MP and Attorney-at-Law, Bernard De Santos.
He too supported the amendment saying that at present the law was in chaos and as such persons should not be held to the same maxim of ignorance of the law is no excuse
He said that the law should be clear.
According to De Santos regardless of whether the Chief Justice’s (ag) ruling was right or wrong he was bound by the ruling that was in the superior court, namely the Court of Appeal, and that the Dataram ruling offended that principle.
He stated that Chang could have objected as much as he wanted to the ruling by the Appeal Court but regardless he was bound by that ruling.
De Santos stated that from time immemorial the Government has been berated with not going after, “big fishes.”
He sated that extradition law dealt specifically with “big fishes” and as such Government must ensure that laws are in such a way that they do not slip away.
As it relates to amending the law and not the treaty De Santos said that the government could address the situation by whatever means it chooses.
Ramson in his closing arguments accused the AFC as being an acronym for – Always For Confusion and that Ramjattan’s arguments were not valid.
He stated, too, that he did not in any way chastise the Chief Justice but merely compared the two rulings.