Media should not discuss matters under judicial consideration

Guyana Chronicle
November 12, 2002

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The prosecution team representing the state in the Preliminary Inquiry into treason charges against Mark Benschop and Philip Bynoe, last Sunday appeared on GTV's "Close Up" programme to clarify certain misconceptions relating to the case.

"Treason is any act by any person who owes allegiance to the State, whether by birth, naturalisation or have showed intention to reside in the State, to do any act to overthrow the Government or the Constitution," asserted Attorney-at-Law Darshan Ramdhani, a member of the prosecution team, which also comprises Sanjeev Datadin and Anil Nandalall.

Highlighting statements made by Defence Attorneys Basil Williams and Mortimer Coddette on the "Wake Up Guyana " and "At Home With Roger" television shows, which inferred that the Benschop/Bynoe case would indicate whether or not the judiciary is independent and free from political interference, the Prosecutors said such statements could serve to influence the Magistrate and pervert the course of justice.

The Prosecutors contended that such statements could be construed as "leading" and that if the Magistrate's ruling was not in the Defence's favour, then it could be inferred that the magistrate was under political pressure.

They noted that in any treason trial, the independence of the Judiciary will be under scrutiny and such statements could be indicative of "holding the Magistrate to ransom," and labelled such practices as "very dangerous."

Referring to views presented by Defence lawyers Williams and Coddette, the Prosecutors contended that personal opinions were presented in a manner that would suggest that they were facts and that the public was being misinformed and misguided by public statements made by the defence.

Ramdhani, also a trained journalist, observed that in any case that is before the court, the legal aspects may be discussed in the media but matters under judicial consideration should not be discussed, especially to the extent where it can interfere with judicial considerations. He further explained that care should be taken to ensure that personal opinions are not peddled as facts.

Noting the assertions by the defence that the State failed to produce evidence sufficient to commit Benschop to stand trial, the Prosecutors explained that in a Preliminary Inquiry, the task of the prosecution is a very limited one. They further explained that the role of the Magistrate in a prima facie case is confined to deciding whether the evidence tendered is admissible and in so doing only evidence found to be "manifestly unreliable" may be ruled out.

The Prosecutors explained that the Magistrate cannot attach any "weight" to a particular bit of evidence, but has to receive all and then deliberate on the total. They added that the Magistrate cannot reject any evidence that is legally admissible.

It was further explained that the Preliminary Inquiry was not a trial to prove whether Benschop was guilty or not of treason, rather this would be done in the High Court in the presence of a jury.

According to the Prosecutors, the Magistrate at a Preliminary Inquiry is not called upon to determine the consistency or inconsistency of the evidence tendered but just to determine if there is enough evidence to go to trial.

Sharing their legal knowledge on what was required of the defence, the Prosecutors explained that it was their duty to ensure that evidence tendered was admissible and admitted in accordance with legal principles.

The defence also was within its rights to cross-examine any witness so as to have them discredited, the prosecutors added.

On the other hand it was the duty of the Prosecutors to show that the accused must have allegiance to the State, the Attorneys pointed out, disclosing that this was shown through a number of ways including witnesses and documents.

One document tendered and admitted as evidence was a passport in the name of Mark Benschop and bearing a pictorial likeness of the accused. According to the Prosecutors, this supports their claim that Benschop owed allegiance to the State of Guyana.

The prosecutors contended that any act by any person purporting to have allegiance to the State, which may be interpreted as an attempt to overthrow the Government or the Constitution of the State, is guilty of treason.

The intent to commit treason does not have to be proven by a statement, but any evidence that could be construed as inferring the intention to overthrow or any statement that implies the intent to overthrow, can be used to establish treason, the defence team asserted.

According to them, the question demanding an answer is, what was the intention of the persons storming the Office of the President?

The prosecution team accused the defence lawyers of using the media to peddle one side of the trial, but noted that the public has the right to know the truth and that would include a fair and accurate portrayal of the prosecutor's case.

Closing arguments on the Preliminary Inquiry have been completed and a ruling on the matter is expected sometime this week.

Mark Benschop and Philip Bynoe have been jointly charged with treason, but Bynoe has not appeared to answer the charge. (Government Information Agency-GINA)

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