Commission of Inquiry begins work
Invites information from public
By Mark Meadows
July 25, 2004
(GINA) - THE Presidential Commission of Inquiry into allegations of Home Affairs Minister Ronald Gajraj's involvement in extra-judicial killings has begun its work and is inviting information from the public.
On May 14, President Bharrat Jagdeo, acting under Section 2 of the Commissions of Inquiry Act, Chapter 19:03, appointed the three-man Commission - Chairman Justice of Appeal Ian Chang, former Army Chief of Staff Major General Norman McLean and former Chancellor of the Judiciary Keith Massiah - to conduct an Inquiry under the Terms of Reference "Whether and to what extent there is evidence of a credible nature to support the allegations that the Minister of Home Affairs, Ronald Gajraj has been involved in promoting directing or otherwise engaging in activities which have involved the extra judicial killings of persons."
A notice issued by the Commission invited the general public to "submit such information as may be of assistance in their inquiry. Information relating to the above shall be in writing which must bear the signature, full name and address of the informant".
All statements or memoranda must be addressed to the: Secretary , Presidential Commission of Inquiry, Conference Room of the Law Library, Supreme Court Compound, South Road and King Street, Georgetown Demerara.
All statements will be subject to the dictates of fairness, shall be treated in the strictest confidence, the notice stated, adding that statements or memoranda must be submitted on or before Monday, August 30, 2004.
Persons who may be in need of assistance in the preparation of statements or memoranda can receive such assistance from Counsel for the Commission or his Assistant at the Law Library, Supreme Court Compound, South Road and King Street, Georgetown, Demerara between 13:00 hours and 16:00 hours Monday to Friday.
Hearings will be conducted in the Conference Room of the Library, Supreme Court Compound, South Road and King Street, Georgetown Demerara and at other locations in the Regions. Notice of other locations will be published in the newspapers.
Hearings will begin the earliest possible date after submissions would have closed.
"The Commissioners may summon persons who have not submitted statements or memoranda to attend and give evidence in the inquiry as they may deem necessary, and such persons will be bound to attend and give evidence as fully in all respects as witnesses are bound to obey subpoenas issued by the High Court. The Commissioners may, in any case it considers appropriate take the evidence or part of the evidence of any Witness in camera, "the Notice indicated.
Also, "Where the Commissioners perceive that a Witness or potential Witness is in need of protection in the interest of his own security, the Commissioners shall request the Commissioner of Police to offer and provide such protection", the Notice signed by the Chairman of the Commission Ian Chang stated.
We publish below is an outline of the proposed procedure for conducting the Presidential commission of inquiry as issued by the Commission.
`The Commissioners shall conduct the Inquiry strictly within and in accordance with the terms of reference.
The Inquiry is inquisitorial and not adversarial. Therefore, the rules which obtain in litigation with its adversarial type confrontations between disputants do not apply. The Inquiry shall be conducted in the manner which, in the opinion of the Commissioners, will best serve the task of reporting to His Excellency, the President on the matters mentioned in the terms of reference, subject to the provisions of the Commissions of Inquiry Act, Cap. 19:03.
The Commissioners may in any case it considers appropriate take the evidence or part of the evidence of any Witness in camera.
The Commissioners alone shall decide what witnesses will be called to give evidence in the Inquiry and/or to produce documents, books, plans etc.
As a matter of generality, the Commissioners' decision as to what witnesses to call will be based on the relevance of the contents of written statements or memoranda (and the need to avoid superfluity).
Persons wishing to testify before the Commissioners will be required to submit in advance written signed statements or memoranda containing the nature and substance of their proposed evidence. Persons wishing to tender documents, books, plans, etc will be required to submit copies of such documents, books, plans etc, along with their written statements or memoranda. The address of such persons must be stated in the statements or memoranda.
A deadline date will be set for submission of statements or memoranda to the Secretariat and will be published in advertisements in the newspapers in which the public will be invited to submit their statements or memoranda before testifying before the Commission.
The Commissioners will consider all the statements or memoranda submitted on or before the deadline date. The Commissioners are not obliged or bound to consider but may consider statements or memoranda submitted after the deadline date.
Without prejudice to the statutory right of the Commissioners to summon any person to attend and testify or produce documents, books, plans, etc., no person will be allowed to testify before the Commissioners and/or to produce documents, books, plans etc., unless his or her written and signed statement or memorandum is made available to the Commissioners before he or she is allowed to testify.
In view of the subject matter of the Inquiry, the Honourable Minister of Home Affairs, Mr. Ronald Gajraj to whom the Inquiry relates will be entitled under Section 13 of the Commissions of Inquiry Act, Cap. 19:03 to be represented by Counsel during the whole Inquiry. Legal representation to any other person or body will not be permitted except with leave of the Commissioners.
Since the Inquiry is inquisitorial and not adversarial, no one, except the Commissioner, has a right to cross-examine any witness. Therefore, cross-examination, if any by Counsel for the Commissioners or for any witness or person, will be allowed only with leave of the Commissioners.
Cross-examination of witnesses will be allowed only to the extent that the Commissioners think it is helpful towards eliciting information on matters under investigations.
All witnesses will be examined first by Counsel for the Commissioners and then cross examined by Counsel for the Minister (with leave) and then re-examined by Counsel for the Commissioners (if necessary). Without prejudice to the right of the Commissioners to ask such questions of a witness at any stage of his or her testimony, the Commissioners may then ask questions of the witness and then further cross-examination and re-examination may be allowed.
Witnesses have no right to silence and therefore cannot withhold evidence. However, there is a statutory exception against self-incrimination. Section 12(3) of the Commissions of Inquiry Act, Cap 19:03 provides that a person giving evidence before the Commissioners shall not be compellable to criminate himself or herself.
Since there is no provision in the Act which precludes the use of evidence given in the Inquiry in any future criminal or civil proceedings, the Commissioners propose to inform all witness before the commencement of their testimony of their statutory right not to give self-incriminating evidence. Witnesses will also be so warned whenever the Commissioners perceive that an answer to any question is likely to be self-incriminating. However, self-incriminating evidence is receivable.
In so far as the Commissioners see it necessary in the interest of fairness to do so, the Commissioners will furnish to the Minister or his Counsel copies of statements of witnesses which are not already in the possession of the Minister or his Counsel before such witnesses are called upon to testify.'