…also widens category of evidence to be used in trials
By Gary Eleazar
The National Assembly yesterday met for the first time in 2014 and unanimously voted to create a new criminal offence, revamp the admissibility of various types of evidence in criminal and civil trials as well as allow for persons who received tickets for traffic offences to be allowed to make payments in any magisterial district.
For several hours at yesterday’s sitting, the House voted on and unanimously for the Firearms (Amendment) Bill, the Evidence (Amendment) Bill as well as the Summary Jurisdiction (Procedure)(Amendment) Bill.
All three Bills were last year rejected by the political opposition given that they were at that time tabled by Minister of Home Affairs, Clement Rohee. It was this time around successfully piloted by Attorney General, Anil Nandlall, who found support among all of the speakers in the opposition benches.
Under the current legislation, there is no offence that caters for the possession of a component of a firearm. When assented to by the President, this lacuna will no longer exist, and illegal possession of a firearm or even a component will carry penalties of fines up to $5M and jail terms up to 10 years.
Nandlall, in presenting the amendments to the House, reminded that it stems from international obligations under Organisation of American States (OAS) and the United Nations General Assembly’s conventions. He noted that while the amendments were quite small in terms of size, it is fundamental to the country at large.
In seeking support from the House for the successful passage of the Bill, Nandlall said he did not believe that he had to make a case for the wide use of illegal weapons in Guyana.
He said that the House was fully aware of the many instances of gun-related crimes involving the use of illegal weapons and the many instances of weapons being found in goods being imported into Guyana.
Former Commissioner of Police, Winston Felix, who now holds a seat in the benches of A Partnership for National Unity (APNU), in voicing the coalition’s support for the Bill, said that legislation alone is not enough in that it must be accompanied with a complete reformation of the Guyana Police Force.
He noted that internationally, the trafficking and possession of illegal weapons is considered a serious offence and illegal firearms in Guyana have caused much suffering to many hardworking people, some of whom are robbed at gunpoint in their homes.
He spoke, too, of the increasing gun crimes in the interior and even in the seas where piracy has become rampant in recent years.
According to Felix, the perpetrators of death must be dealt with condignly and must meet with the full force of the law.
“The interest of public security is not best served by batons utilized on the anatomy of citizens, neither is public interest served in senseless shootings…what we expect is that Government action must stand firmly in prosecuting those who commit crimes and they must feel the full force of the law…Citizens pay taxes and we demand a higher state off protection.”
The Alliance for Change (AFC) also readily supported the amendments to the legislation.
AFC’s Vice Chairman, Moses Nagamootoo, who represented his party in the debate, told the House that the party recognizes the importance of the legislation but on the last occasion, it wanted to send a strong message that responsible and efficacious leadership is more important.
He was making reference to when Minister Rohee had brought the Bill to the House, and it was voted down by AFC and APNU. The Opposition at the time had voted for a motion of no confidence to be instituted against Rohee to act in that capacity.
Nagamootoo told the House that he was happy that Government had put aside its pettiness and traded-off its political response and found it necessary to have the Attorney General bring back the Bill.
Rohee, who had last year unsuccessfully piloted the three pieces of legislation, in his presentation to the debate, told the House that given the shortcomings in resources as well as the geostrategic position of Guyana, Government has been in talks with Brazil to provide satellite services in a bid to assist in the monitoring of the nation’s borders.
He said that the police and the Guyana Defence Force (GDF) are hamstrung by the paucity of human and technological resources to address in a scientific and aggressive manner this phenomenon on gun and narcotics trafficking.
The Minister did make mention of some other strategies employed, such as the establishment off a special taskforce as well as a firearms unit within the intelligence sectors of the Police, Army and Prison Services.
He did concede that the amendments to the legislation will not bring the scourge to an end but will certainly go a far way in reducing it. The Minister told the House that during this era the Guyana Police Force is experiencing the greatest level of reform in its more than 100 years of existence.
The House also deliberated on the Evidence (Amendment) Bill which, when assented to, will allow for a greater category of specialists such as ballistics and bacteriologists and fingerprint specialists, among others, to have their reports and certificates allowed to be entered as evidence in trials.
Nandlall, in presenting the amendments to the House, said lawyers would recognize the practical importance of having certificates and reports of a broader category of persons and disciplines having evidential value.
He spoke to the fact that very soon the Guyana Forensic Laboratory would be coming on stream which would also house the Police Force’s forensic laboratory, and as such, there would be a need for the scientific officers’ certificates to be made admissible as evidence.
Nandlall noted that the legislation will certainly aid in the speedier conclusion of trials.
Attorney-at-Law and Member of Parliament for the ruling party, Bibi Shadick, who spoke briefly in support of the Bill, said that what it does is bring Guyana further into the present, and she added that “technology is here with us and we must make use of it.”
She also made mention of the modern laboratory that will be operational soon and the need for the types of reports to be generated there to be admissible.
Shadick said that she is certain that in future the law will have to be amended further and “if this will help swifter justice then I am all for that, justice delayed is justice denied”.
A Partnership for National Unity (APNU)’s Basil Williams in supporting the amendments also acknowledged the fact that it will allow for the speedier conclusions of trials.
“APNU has no problem in supporting the Evidence Amendment Bill as it is.”
AFC Leader Khemraj Ramjattan while sounding his support for the Bill and its merits, also sought to caution that the persons under the new categories such as fingerprint and handwriting specialists, among others, must be persons of integrity.
He said that persons can be sentenced for extensive periods, and as such, the integrity of the persons making these reports to be admitted as evidence must have unassailable integrity.
“We are urging that those who will be prescribed as members; who are going to be classified as scientific officers and specialists… that they have personal and systemic integrity, it is very important.
The Attorney General also successfully piloted the Summary Jurisdiction (Procedure) (Amendment) Bill.
He reminded the House that in 1998 when the law was amended to provide for the issuance of traffic tickets, it was prescribed that the fine be paid in the Magisterial District it was issued.
He said that this caused enormous hardship on persons and explained that if a person who lives in Georgetown is given a ticket in Lethem, they would have to return to that Magisterial District to pay the fines.
With the amendments in place, the ticketed offenders will now be able to pay it in any district.
A Partnership for National Unity reluctantly supported the Bill, with Williams telling the House that with all of the carnage on the roadways, he was surprised that the government would come with such a ‘tidbit’ piece of legislation.
He said that government should have brought a more comprehensive piece of legislation, meant to deal substantially with the road carnage. He questioned the logic behind reducing the burdens of traffic offenders.
“We would not break a lance over this tidbit piece of legislation and will reluctantly agree to it.”
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