We have had within our judicial system a number of voir dires. The main reason for the proliferation of these trials within trials is that there are questions about the admissibility of confession statements given by persons accused or murder.
From way back, defence counsel have challenged confession statements made by their clients on the grounds that these statements were extracted under threat of force or torture. In most instances, these challenges are thrown out. But there have been a few cases where the courts have found that the so-called confession statements were made under extreme duress. However, these instances have been few and far apart, Yet, there continues to be voir dires, because a confession statement can be damning to the case of an accused.
One of the main grounds for challenging the admissibility of confession statements is that torture of force was used. There have never been accusations of water boarding in Guyana. But there have been allegations of plastic bags being placed over the heads of suspects. There have also been accusations of shock therapy being applied to the body of suspects. There have been allegations of the testicles of prisoners being ‘shocked’, of political prisoners being placed to sit on the nests of biting ants, of suspects being beaten with hard objects, and of course there was the infamous case of the private parts of a man being doused with methylated spirits and set alight.
It is not good enough for the political authorities to say that whenever allegations of torture are made these should be investigated. A protocol should be developed outlining a series of steps which should be followed once such an allegation is made.
We have seen for example this past week in Florida where the FBI was said to have shot a man wanted for questioning in relation to the Boston bombings and for other crimes in that area. The man reportedly resisted arrest, misbehaved, and was shot. Immediately, certain standard operational procedures to investigate the killings were activated.
We will see the same happening in England where two suspects were shot after reportedly butchering a soldier. There will be certain steps taken to determine whether excessive or brute force was used by the police.
Guyana has to follow similar procedures. There have to be certain set procedures to investigate charges of unlawful killings or following charges about the use of force or torture. The government should, however, not leave this to the Police Force. That organization does not enjoy much of the public’s confidence when it comes to investigating charges of impropriety and misconduct on the part of its own members.
What is needed, until that level of confidence can be restored, is for an independent investigating mechanism to be established. This should ideally be headed by a retired judge and comprise other persons with knowledge about interrogation. A three-man team can be established, which will automatically kick in whenever there is a charge of the use of threats, force or torture in extracting statements from accused persons.
In addition, a suggestion was made a long time ago that will help to bring an end to these charges of the use of force. And it will not take much for this to be implemented. It has been suggested that whenever suspects are being interrogated, the entire process should be videotaped. If this is done, then it means that there will be evidence to either substantiate or dispute the many charges which are often levelled about persons being forced to sign statements.
The Minister of Home Affairs has established a website in which persons can indicate whether they paid a bribe. He should also buy a few video cameras and have them set up in the interrogating rooms of police stations so that there will be video recordings of the questioning of suspects.
This along with an independent body to investigate allegations about the use of force will reduce, substantially, the number of charges of the use of force. But let us hope it does not reduce the number of confession statements, because if it does, it could mean that all was and is still not right with how police conduct the questioning of suspects.
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