Ramdhani justifies push to have election matters tried in the Magistrates’ Court

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Queen’s Counsel Darshan Ramdhani, while justifying his push to have ex-elections officers Keith Lowenfield, Roxane Myers and Clairmont Mingo tried in the Magistrates’ Court as against the High Court has clarified his statements regarding fair jury trial in political matters in Guyana due it is ethnic divide.

In a statement released by Attorney-at-Law Nigel Hughes on Wednesday (December 15), the Queen’s Counsel was quoted as saying that “no one will ever have a fair trial in the High Court in political matters,” because the country is politically polarized and ethnically divided. But during a press conference on Saturday (December 18), the Queen’s Counsel, who is representing the Director of Public Prosecutions, said he made no such statement when he appeared before Magistrate Sherdel Isaacs-Marcus in the Magistrates’ Court on Tuesday, December 14 as alleged by Hughes. Hughes is representing the accused.

“There was nothing that introduced any ethnic element in my application, submissions, conversations with the Court, so that is categorically not true, and I also did not say that you cannot have a fair trial. I said this is a factor that the Court must consider, whether members of the jurors, in a High Court Trial of a matter such as this nature, whether there is going to be a likelihood that a fair trial cannot be had,” he clarified.

In contextualizing the issue, Ramdhani explained that the cases against Lowenfield, Myers, and Mingo ranging from allegations of misconduct in public office to conspiracy to defraud, have been divided among three Courts presided over by the Chief Magistrate Ann McClennan, Magistrate Leron Daly and Magistrate Sherdel Isaacs-Marcus.

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“All of these charges are indictable charges – conspiracy to defraud, misconduct in public office – they are all indictable offences and they all carry a maximum penalty of one-year in prison,” Ramdhani explained.

It was noted that an indictable matter commences at the Magistrates’ Court, and it is the Magistrate who decides whether there will be a Preliminary Inquiry (PI), paving the way for the case to be tried in the High Court or whether it would be heard summarily.

“In Guyana, this particular exercise is done frequently in relation to many matters, that is why you see in the High Court major serious offences come up like murder, rape, armed robbery with violence because even robbery itself are offences which are dealt with by the Magistrate summarily. The courts would retain these matters because it is often, for the sake of expediency that these matters can be dealt with quickly without allocating much of the resources of the court,” he further explained.

According to the Queen’s Counsel, the Chief Magistrate ordered that the related cases before her would be would be disposed of summarily. However, Magistrate Leron Daly had ruled that the charges against Myers – the former Deputy Chief Elections officer (DCEO) – are indictable.

The decision paved the way for a Preliminary Inquiry (PI) to be conducted in an effort to determine whether there is sufficient evidence against Myers for her to stand trial in the High Court, however, the DPP appealed the decision. High Court Judge Franklyn Holder later upheld the decision of the lower court, and that decision has since been appealed at the level of the Court of Appeal.

The Queen’s Counsel said when another one of the cases came up before Magistrate Isaacs-Marcus, he made an application on behalf of the DPP for the matter to be tried summarily as being done by the Chief Magistrate.

“We have raised as one of the considerations, that the Court should consider first, the maximum penalty is one year and a magistrate can properly impose such a sentence… One can understand an argument that says if the maximum [penalty] is life imprison then, the Magistrate in keeping such a matter cannot give more than 3 years and perhaps it is more suitable to go to the High Court. But in this case, we have offences which carry a maximum of one year,” he told reporters.

The Queen’s Counsel said it was against that background that he asked that the case be heard summarily. However, he did not dispute expressing concerns about the country’s voting pattern and its possible impact on a trial.

“I have asked the Court that as a relevant factor, in deciding whether or not you should keep the matter, you should consider that any jury pool that is likely to be selected is likely to have persons from both ends of that political divide. So I made those submissions,” he explained.

Ramdhani said at no time did he indicate that political matters cannot be fairly tried in the High Court.

“One can’t sit here, at any point in time, and say it is a fact that somebody cannot be tried fairly by a jury in the High Court. If a matter gets to the High Court of this nature, a trial judge will have to decide and consider whether any juror selected will be the kind of juror who can disabuse his or her mind from these political consideration, and so it is in that context the submission is made,” he said. However, he maintained the Magistrates should save time and resources by having the cases disposed of summarily.



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