Evidence (Amendment) Bill 2013 – Bill No. 7/20132321 13 Jun, 2013
EVIDENCE (AMENDMENT) BILL 2013 – Bill No. 7/2013
Minister of Home Affairs [Mr. Rohee]: Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to proceed with this Bill which, I believe, is quite innocuous and ought not to generate any controversy with respect to its intentions.
The intention of the Bill is basically to expand the number of documents to which Section 43 of the Evidence Act applies and to include in the definition of analyst “an analyst of the Guyana Police Force or any other qualified person...” without, of course, taking away the right of the accused or the court, for that matter, to test the reliability of the report or certificate presented by the analyst. That is basically the fundamental thrust of the intention of this Bill.
The intention, further, is to make admissible in evidence, without the testimony of the analyst who prepared the report... I must say with one caveat that unless the analyst is required to give evidence, pursuant to instructions received from the court on application by any party in the court proceedings, the report of this duly qualified person or persons who have analysed a certain matter and stated the results of the analysis...
Currently, the legislative provisions under Section 43 of the Evidence Act allow certain specific reports compiled by experts to be tendered and used in court without the need for the analyst to attend the court and to give evidence. These include: post-mortem reports prepared by the pathologists – currently there are two pathologists in the country – and medical certificates prepared by a registered medical practitioner after examination of a virtual complainant.
In addition to these two reports mentioned in Section 43 (4) of the Evidence Act, the report of the analyst who runs the tests on suspected narcotics is also admissible in evidence without the need for that analyst to attend court to give his evidence, unless otherwise directed to do so. Reference to this could be found in Section 80 of the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (Control) Act which deals with the question of the analyst.
In practice, after the analyst of the narcotics conducts the tests on the suspected narcotic, he or she fills out an analyst form with his findings, signs the same, and hands it over to the police. The police rank, who would be appearing in court, collects that evidence and it is tendered through him, rather than the analyst himself or herself presenting it.
We have the same in respect to the Evidence Act and the Motor Vehicles and Road Traffic (Amendment) Act, which has to do with driving under the influence of alcohol. In this case, another analyst would do the necessary analysis and prepare the certificate, which would be signed by a registered medical practitioner, and the same would apply where the police in court would present that registered medical certificate.
As is normal in what the lawyers would describe as evidentiary practice, the reports of the analysts are admitted in evidence after certain elements are established before the court and the contents of the report are used as evidence in the matter, even though the person who prepared the report is not present and attendant in court to give that evidence.
On the question of post-mortem reports, currently, the only time the pathologist would attend court is if there is a request by a party to the proceedings or the court itself for the pathologist to explain something to the court.
We, in the National Commission on Law and Order, had several lengthy discussions on the question of initiatives that we can take to make amendments to the Evidence Act because it is the mandate of the National Commission on Law and Order to examine the laws and to make recommendations to Cabinet in respect of such matters.
The legislative subcommittee of the National Commission on Law and Order, having examined this particular matter, found it appropriate to approach Cabinet to make certain amendments to the Evidence Act, in accordance with what is reflected in this Bill. The reform that we are proposing in the Bill is to request that certain statutory provisions be enacted in relation to the admission of evidence of the reports of the analysis of the following areas: fingerprints, firearms and ammunition, poisonous and noxious substances, local and foreign currencies, human blood, bones and tissues, fuel and fuel-based substances.
It is noteworthy to take into consideration that we are moving in this direction because, at the same time, the forensic laboratory that is nearing completion, which will bring to new heights the question of analysis and the presentation of evidence in court, would require the imprimatur of the court when evidence of this type is presented in order to legitimise, so to speak, the legal aspects of these matters.
I believe that passage of this Bill would go a far way in assisting, from a strategic point of view, the forensic laboratory, when it becomes fully commissioned, to advance its strategic plan and the terms of reference to which it has been mandated.
It is noted that there is currently no legislation providing specifically for the admission of the reports of these analysts into evidence without the testimony of the analyst who prepared the report which can be, as expected, very time consuming.
Accordingly, Section 43 (4) of the Evidence Act has been amended to include the above listed report from these sections in addition to post mortem reports and the reports from the duly registered medical practitioners. In addition to the reports from the pathologists and the medical practitioners, we are amending the Act to include reports being presented as evidence from those areas that I earlier mentioned.
Section 43 (5) is also amended to include an analyst of the Guyana Police Force or any other qualified person that the Minister may by Order prescribe since some of the substances are analysed by agencies which do not fall under the remit of the Ministry of Home Affairs, for example: poisonous and noxious substances, local and foreign currency, fuel and fuel-based substances. These fall under the aegis of other government departments.
I believe that the Bill that we have before us is, as I said, quite innocuous and forward-looking and aims to enhance the criminal justice system, put the intended forensic laboratory in good stead, and will raise to new heights the quest to ensure that there is justice based on scientific materials and reports in order for persons who feel aggrieved to feel some measure of satisfaction and justice.
Thank you. [Applause]
Mr. Rohee (replying): Mr. Speaker, I believe apart from what I said the Attorney General has captured quite succinctly the intent of this Bill. There is one word I believe that can encapsulate what both the Attorney General and I have said. That is this is a progressive piece of legislation irrespective of how you turn it or twist it; whichever perspective you may look at it from, it has to be deemed a progressive piece of legislation. It is moving the process forward; it is forward looking. More than that, it addresses a concern which I believe quite a large number of Guyanese would be heard talking about from time to time, or calling for from time to time. People in this country are now habitual callers for justice. This call for justice is not only political justice, social justice, or economic justice; this is justice of a very wide berth. So I believe from those two perspectives, one, the legislation being progressive and two, democratic in nature, the Bill should be supported.
Widening the scope of the nature of the analyst and widening the scope of the institutions, which analysis would be or could be presented in the court, those two basic amendments by their very nature speaks to the progressive and democratic nature of the intent and thrust of the Bill. I wish, therefore, with this in mind ask that the Bill be considered for reading a second time.
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