Min. Gajraj shares Police bail concerns By Nivedta Kowlessar
Guyana Chronicle
November 18, 2003

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HOME AFFAIRS Minister, Ronald Gajraj, has expressed concern about the granting of bail of sometimes minimal value to persons accused of serious crimes.

He did so Friday at a public inquiry into the Guyana Police Force where an apparent lack of coordination in the criminal justice system was raised.

Attorney-at-Law, Anil Nandlall, member of the Defences Forces Commission, which was conducting the inquiry at the Supreme Court Law Library in Georgetown, sought Gajraj's views based on Police complaints.

Nandlall said lawmen, in evidence to the Commission, noted that they expend "tremendous energy" and resources in the pursuit and capture of known criminals accused of violent crimes and they are sometimes released on their first Court appearance on bail of minimal value.

The Commissioner asked Gajraj if there was a mechanism for collaboration between the Police and criminal administration justice system to assess individual and inter-related roles in the pursuit of what he sees as a "common objective".

The Minister said the Government has been working to develop the capacity of the wider criminal justice system, comprising the Courts, judiciary, including the magistracy, and Police and Prison Service.

"We have had interventions done and...ongoing with respect to improving the judiciary and the capacity of the magistracy," he told the Commission.

The remuneration package for magistrates was recently revised in an effort to decrease vacancies, if any, and the appointment of judges to the High Court, subject to the formation of the Judicial Service Commission, is being considered.

The authorities have also invested substantial resources in improving the Police Force and Prison Service, the Minister said.

While observing that bail is in the discretion of the Courts, subject to an offence being bailable, Gajraj said some magistrates "appear to disregard" statutory provisions for penalties for some crimes and "do their own thing".

He cited recent examples of a man being charged with a serious, violent offence and being granted $25,000 bail.

"Unfortunately, he is not around to commit any other offence because not long after he was put on bail...and in the process of committing a robbery, he lost his life," Gajraj said. He noted that prior to appearing in Court, the suspect had just been released from prison.

The Minister also said he recently had cause to comment on the use of squibs and certain illegal practices taking place at the Cheddi Jagan International Airport, Timehri. But he noted that all he could have done was to ask magistrates to "take cognisance of the situation" as he cannot tell them or the Courts how to deal with matters.

Another example cited by Gajraj involved the brother-in-law of wanted fugitive Shawn Brown, one of the escapees in the infamous February 23, 2002 jailbreak. Both were killed in a shootout with the Police in Georgetown shortly after the brother-in-law, Delon George, was exonerated by the Court on charges of murder and other serious offences.

"I cannot blame the Court if the evidence is not forthcoming...one of the things that we need to look at is...why...

"(It) might be because of fear on the part of witnesses. What generates the fear? (It) might it be because the accused person is on bail out there and can terrorise people. Or is it other corrupt practices, (in) that people might be induced not to go and give the evidence?

"I'm asking that these factors be taken into consideration when matters of a serious nature, especially those involving violence, engage the attention of the Courts," Gajraj said.

The Minister said there is a need to see what is being done "on the ground" and why, pointing out that these are the "real nuts and bolts" issues to be dealt with.

The Commission, now in recess, has been mandated to investigate the Police, Army, Prison and Fire Services.

It is chaired by Appeal Court Judge, Ian Chang and comprises Nandlall, Senior Counsel, Charles Ramson, Brigadier (ret'd) David Granger and Maggie Bierne, a member of the Commission for the Administration of Justice in Northern Ireland.