The President of Guyana cannot instruct the Commissioner of Police to conduct any investigation. The government, through the Minister of Public Security, formerly the Minister of Home Affairs, can only provide ‘general direction’ – another way of saying ‘policy’ – to the Police Force.
A number of newscasts and newspapers have reported that the President has ordered an investigation into the deaths of three men who were shot by the police, in the vicinity of the Georgetown Seawall, two weeks ago. These media houses should revisit some of their headlines because, by law and convention, the President has no authority to instruct the Commissioner of Police to do anything.
The President can ask the police for information. The police are obligated to provide this information, provided it will not compromise any investigation.
The President can report a matter to the police. The police are duty bound to investigate that matter, as it is with any complaint filed by any citizen.
The President can outline security policy. But this is best done through the Minister of Home Affairs who holds political responsibility for public security. This responsibility, however, is limited to answering questions posed to him by the National Assembly. The Minister of Public Security cannot be held personally liable or responsible, under the doctrine of political responsibility for specific failings of the police force.
The President also has the option of appointing a Commission of Inquiry into any incident, including the incident in which three men were shot by the police during what is alleged to be an exchange of gunfire.
The law also provides for a Coroner’s Inquest into every case on unnatural deaths. But such inquests tend to be limited to determining the cause of death of someone or some group of persons.
Given the unnatural deaths in Guyana, the number of magistrates would have to be tripled to deal with the large number of inquests, which need to be undertaken.
The Commissioner of Police can undertake his own investigation, as is presently being done, but he cannot and should not be instructed by any political authority to do so.
It would be highly improper of the President of a country to instruct any police officer, junior or senior. The media therefore must revisit their reports to determine whether they were misrepresenting what the President reportedly told them.
A witness has turned up and claimed that he was working in the vicinity of the area where the alleged incident occurred and that he saw the police brutalizing one of the victims before shooting him. From where he is said to have been, on top of a roof, and considering where the incident took place, the alleged witness must be credited with excellent eyesight.
Guyana’s media houses used to have a solid reputation of investigating such claims and arriving at their own conclusions. Yet, it seems as if very few of the media houses were interested in testing whether from the alleged vantage point of the witness, he could have seen what happened.
Some media houses seem to have used drones after the incident to get images of the scene of the shooting. But even the drones could not provide a close-up account. It is hard to imagine how an eyewitness, some distance away, could have seen with clarity what happened.
The eyewitness version is not necessarily inaccurate. However, it is just that it needs to be clearer and definitive if it is to be of evidential value.
The police must be allowed to do their investigation. A Coroner’s Inquest must be held since the law requires this and since this would throw greater light on what happened. But there is no way that any politician should be instructing the police to undertake an investigation.
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