Sexual Offences2189 03 Jan, 2013
Mr. B. Williams: I am pleased to announce on this occasion that the learned Attorney General, an Hon. Member of this House, and I are ad idem in relation to the passage of this amendment in this honourable House.
I would just like to say that the paper committal’s precursor was the Criminal Law (Procedure) (Amendment) Act 2008. Subsequently, it was felt that the trauma experienced by victims was such that they should not be exposed to the stress of a preliminary inquiry where they would have to see the alleged perpetrator of the crime against them. I could recall that in the Special Select Committee various strategies were discussed, in terms of how to ease the burden on a young victim in the instance of an allegation of rape, so they borrowed, more or less, from the paper committal in the Criminal Law (Procedure) (Amendment) Act in the general criminal law.
As a practitioner, I, myself, was surprised to see the end product of what we had agreed in the Special Select Committee because I cannot recollect us agreeing to that approach, in which only the voice of the prosecutor could be heard in the court on a charge of carnal knowledge or rape. What I found, in the recent case with the late Commissioner of Police, was only then we realised that if a person is charged with rape, even though he has a presumption of innocence in his favour, he does not get a chance to defend himself until the matter goes before a judge and jury. Something had to be wrong with that because there was also the concomitant provision of no bail in that scenario and it would have been difficult. We thought that it was pretty bad but the magistrates, of course, were reluctant to buck what they thought might have been the intent of the legislature.
I recall that we had to devise measures. For example, the provision which speaks to a child being under the age of sixteen, I encountered that in a court. When one looked at the statement of the alleged victim, the statement contained matters that, on a very ordinary reading of the statement, would show consent, but because that person under sixteen would be presumed not to be able to give consent, the issue arose in this case was that the alleged offence occurred one day before the sixteenth birthday of that young person. The question was that if the person was sixteen years old then one would have seen obvious consent. When it was pointed out that if the committal went ahead the person would not have been heard until the matter went to a judge and jury, the magistrate was very receptive because a person could not become capable of consent within a matter of hours on attaining the age of sixteen when he or she gave consent a day before. We had to device measures and strategies to ease the harshness of the legislation.
We had a promise agreement. I remember the late attorney Mr. Puran had promised to bring a constitutional motion. We had discussed it in a professional manner. It was left to the Chief Magistrate, herself, to really get it off of the ground.
In pursuance of article 144, which guarantees everyone charged with a criminal offence the right to a fair trial before an impartial court and within a reasonable time, we believe that the amendment is just, the amendment is right and so we have no difficulty, in APNU, in supporting it.
I just want to say one thing. It was also felt that with paper committals that it would speed up the process of reaching to the end of a case. In other words, our judicial system is attended by inordinate delay. In fact, preliminary inquiries have started taking four to five years and so we thought that paper committals would remedy this situation.
What we, as practitioners, are finding now is that there seems to be some doubt and I trust that the Chancellor would call meetings of his magistracy in order to ensure that the intention of the legislature is carried out, because there are applications for paper committals and some courts are reluctant whilst other courts are granting. I believe that what is happening is that as more paper committals are done, the matters are getting clogged up in the High Court. There are not enough judges to do trials. In fact, the Hon. Attorney General knows that. It is undesirable right now just to have a case or two done before the judge and jury in the assizes.
There are all of these things which need to get straightened out. I would urge the Hon. Attorney General to ensure that the provisions of the Criminal Law (Procedure) (Amendment) Act 2008, with respect to committal proceedings, be recognised by the courts and be applied universally.
On another occasion I would regale this honourable House with the problems we are having with the jury, the jury system, the creation of professional jurors in Guyana and the failure of the administration to review the jury list for years.
With those few words, I thank you, Mdm. Deputy Speaker. [Applause]
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