PSC backs coroners, law reform bills
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Attorney General, Basil Williams
Attorney General, Basil Williams

… PPP wants them sent to select committee

THE Private Sector Commission is supporting the amendments to the Coroners Bill and the establishment of a Law Reform Commission, saying these amendments and change are necessary to strengthen democracy.

Former Attorney General and Legal Affairs Minister, Anil Nandlall
Former Attorney General and Legal Affairs Minister, Anil Nandlall

However, the opposition People’s Progressive Party (PPP) said while it supports the legislative changes in principle, the bills should be sent to a Special Select Committee for scrutiny.
The PSC threw its support behind the bills after participating in consultations on Monday at the Attorney General’s Chambers.
In a statement on Tuesday, the PSC said an agreement was reached with the Attorney General and Legal Affairs Minister, Basil Williams on the appointment of Commissioners.
“The Private Sector Commission, being wholly cognisant of the many obsolete laws, which remain in the Laws of Guyana and the need for careful culling of contradictory laws, fully supports, with minor amendments, the Law Reform Commission Bill.”
The Law Reform Commission Bill, if enacted, will allow for the establishment of a Law Reform Commission, which will have no less than three Commissioners and no more than seven.
“It shall be the duty of the Commission to keep under review all the laws applicable to Guyana, with a view to its systematic development and reform, including in particular, the modification of any branch of the law, the elimination of anomalies, the repeal of obsolete and unnecessary enactments, the reduction of the number of separate enactments and generally the simplification and modernisation of the law,” Section 7 of the Bill explains.
However, with respect to the Coroners (Amendment) Bill, the PSC said the substantive Coroners Act needed to be fully reviewed. The Coroners (Amendment) Bill – Bill No. 11 of 2015 seeks to insert an additional section immediately after Section 3. This section referred to as Section 3A states that notwithstanding anything in Sections 2 and 3, the Judicial Service Commission may appoint fit and proper persons as coroners. Additionally, it seeks to implement a system that would allow the County of Demerara to have at least three coroners, the County of Berbice at least two and the County of Essequibo at least one.
It also provides for coroners to have all the powers, privileges, rights and jurisdiction of a Magistrate and Justice of the Peace as are necessary for the performance of his duties.
Williams, in tabling the Bill in the National Assembly had explained that at present “the Magistrate of the magisterial district, in which an unnatural death occurs, is the coroner. If that Magistrate cannot conveniently or speedily be found or is unable to act the nearest Justice of the Peace, who is able to act shall be the coroner.”
He added, “The amendment affected by this Bill to the Act does not affect the law as it stands, except that it widens the meaning of a coroner.”

REJECTED
But despite his explanation, the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) continues to signal its objection to both the Coroners (Amendment) Bill and the Law Reform Commission Bill. Former Attorney General and Legal Affairs Minister, Anil Nandlall, in presenting the interest of the PPP/C, on Tuesday alleged that during the consultations on Monday the views of his party were rejected. The PPP/C has been pushing for the Bills to be sent to a Special Select Committee.
“The Attorney General rejected our request. More importantly, he indicated that the two (2) Bills were approved by Cabinet and no consultation can go beyond the scope of those Bills. I quickly realised that what we were engaged in was an exercise in cosmetology and not meaningful consultation,” Nandlall said in a statement issued on Tuesday.
Nevertheless, he reiterated his party’s position that the Coroners (Amendment) Bill 2015 should be sent to a Special Parliamentary Select Committee where the Principal Act should be subjected to a “holistic review” in accordance with the recommendations of the Disciplined Forces Commission.
According to him, the Bill in its current form does not address the real “mischief” in the Principal Act. “The real mischief can only be addressed in a comprehensive review of the Bill,” he said. “One of the main problems with the principal Act is that, because of its language, it induces an abdication of responsibility on the part of the Coroner in the different magisterial districts. This must be rectified to ensure that magistrates are mandated to conduct inquests in the areas in which they exercise jurisdiction. In this regard, special considerations must be given to the Georgetown Magisterial District which has several magistrates exercising jurisdiction over the same geographic area. In the end, the Bill must make it clear to each magistrate that they have a duty to carry out their responsibilities under the Principal Act,” he further explained.
Additionally, he proposed that the qualifications of Coroners be fixed and not left to be determined at the discretion of any commission or authority. At a minimum, a Coroner should have a university degree, preferably, in Law, Nandlall opined.
Turning his attention to the Law Reform Commission Bill, the former Legal Affairs Minister said the bill should expressly state that the commission is an independent body. “The Bill vests the authority to appoint in the President after consultation with the Minister of Legal Affairs. By this mechanism the Executive is consulting with itself. This is simply absurd,” he opined.
It is his view that a formula be used to determine the names of the persons who are to sit on the Commission. As such, Nandlall and by extension the PPP/C are proposing that a nominee from the Chancellor of the Judiciary, who should be a retired judge, a sitting judge or a person who holds the qualification to be a judge, should be appointed chairman. Additionally, he is proposing that nominees be taken from the legal profession, the council of the University of Guyana, the Private Sector Commission, the religious community, the labour movement, the major political opposition in Parliament and an organisation that represents human rights.

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