The fallout from the hit list allegation
June 22, 2004
The deed has been done. The fallout is now being contemplated. The issue at hand is about the allegation that someone ordered the so-called death squad to kill the Chief Magistrate and some others.
One columnist to this newspaper has already pronounced about the ethics of the profession that allowed such a story to be broadcast without verification. To this day not another newscast has commented on that issue because they are behaving respectably and they know that at no time should one carry a story on any single person’s ‘say so’.
The fallout of that broadcast could very well lead to a case of justice denied. We are now hearing that the Chief Magistrate, who has been presiding over the preliminary into the allegation that two men fingered as members of a death squad, killed Shafeek Bacchus, is seeking to recuse herself on the ground that she could be perceived as not providing the men with a fair hearing.
One can understand her position. These are said to be the men who were approached to kill her. Knowing this, how can she look at the same men and be impartial? As a human being, two emotions would flow. One would be fear, which could lead to the decision to lock them away for good. The other emotion would be anger.
But at the same time, one must consider the men facing trial. According to our law, a man is innocent until proven guilty. Anything against the two men is mere allegations. Of course the allegations are serious enough to warrant their being in custody. For this reason, the law stipulates that every incarcerated person should be afforded a speedy trial.
The two men have been in custody for some time. With the withdrawal of the Chief Magistrate the entire preliminary would have to be heard from scratch. Witnesses who testified before must be recalled to lead the same evidence and we all know that witnesses are often difficult to find.
Meanwhile, the men must sit in jail to await another preliminary inquiry. If one is innocent then this plays on the mind. Strong men have broken. In this case, the two must now sit and wonder at the time when another preliminary inquiry would start.
The inquiry, according to a lawyer for one of the men, was proceeding apace. Everyone was happy. That pace would certainly be disrupted.
Suffice it to say that they are not the only ones who have had to suffer this fate. Mark Benschop still languishes in jail more than a year after his preliminary was completed. His case, the most serious in the land, should have been heard. The state pulled out the stops to have the preliminary heard expeditiously. That having been done, the very state has decided to slow down the trial. Lawyers moved to the court to block the early hearing on the ground that there were men who should have been tried before Benschop.
It is common knowledge that it is almost impossible to convict an individual for treason. The British law lords have criticised such a charge on the grounds that governments could use it as a means of stifling dissent. However, Guyana has moved to institute such a charge only to dilly dally about the prosecution. There is the likelihood that some of the witnesses might not even be around when the trail begins.
The difference here is that Benschop’s PI ended. The PI of the two accused of killing Shafeek Bacchus is still ongoing. At this time that state of affairs could be different.
What we find amazing is the problems that befall small societies such as ours. People have not been known to create conditions to affect any judicial hearing in most countries because conditions are such that the members of the magistracy and the judiciary are so far removed from the rest of the society.
In Guyana, everybody knows everybody. There is nothing to separate a leading citizen from the rest of the society because we are not as security conscious as we should be. That is why the allegation of the hit list struck such cord in the mind of the Chief Magistrate and caused her to react the way she did.
It is most unfortunate that things have reached such a state to the point where, not only the Chief Magistrate is made to suffer, but also the people over whose trial she is supposed to preside.