Marcus Bisram asks CCJ to strike down law empowering DPP to direct magistrate

DPP's power to overturn magistrates decisions not sitting well with the CCJ

Marcus Bisram, through his lawyer Dharshan Ramdhanie, QC is asking the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) to strike down section 72 (1) and (2) (ii) (b) of the Criminal Law (Procedure) Act.

This section empowers the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Shalimar Ali-Hack, SC to request the depositions from a Preliminary Inquiry (PI) and to direct a magistrate to reopen the PI after an accused has been discharged with the view of committing the said accused to stand trial at the High Court.

Ramdhanie contends that the DPP’s power to direct a committal after an accused has been discharged infringes his client’s constitutional rights provided for under  Articles 122 A and 144 (1) of the Constitution of Guyana and the separation of powers doctrine.

Bisram’s counsel argues that the determination of whether a prima facie case was made out is a judicial process that has to be determined by the magistrate at the PI and not by the DPP.

The CCJ after hearing a plethora of arguments on Thursday reserved its judgement in the appeal filed by Bisram against a decision of the Court of Appeal for him to be committed to stand trial at the High Court for the 2016 murder of Berbice carpenter Faiyaz Narinedatt.

Over one year ago, in June 2020, High Court Judge Simone Morris-Ramlall granted an order of certiorari quashing a directive by the DPP to Magistrate Renita Singh for Bisram to be committed to stand trial for Narinedatt’s murder at the High Court in Berbice. The DPP appealed that ruling to the Appeal Court.

Apart from Ramdhanie, the seven-judge bench headed by CCJ President Justice Adrian Saunders also heard arguments from the DPP.

For her part, the DPP maintained that her directive for Bisram to be committed is lawful, as there is sufficient evidence against him, for which a reasonable jury if properly directed, could safely convict. She argued, too that section 72 (1) and (2) (ii) (b) of the Criminal Law (Procedure) Act is not unconstitutional.

Back in June, the CCJ had suspended the ruling of the Court of Appeal until it hears and determines the matter. The Court also ordered the DPP not to take steps to arrest Bisram.  As such, Bisram remains a free man until the apex court renders its ruling.

He was however ordered by the CCJ to remain in Guyana and present himself to the Divisional Commander or Deputy Commander of Police ‘B’ Division on Monday of every week until the matter is determined. He was also ordered to lodge his passport with the Registrar of the Supreme Court.

In her ruling on Bisram’s judicial review application filed against the DPP’s directive,  Justice Morris-Ramlall held that at the end of the PI, the evidence led by the prosecution against Bisram was insufficient, or, in other words, not of the quality that a reasonable jury, if properly directed, could safely convict on it.

The Judge had noted that the state or extent of the evidence is a relevant factor that should have been taken into account by the DPP in arriving at her decision.

But in overturning the decision of Justice Ramlall, the Court of Appeal led by Chancellor of the Judiciary Justice Yonette Cummings-Edwards held, “We are of the view that the committal proceedings by the magistrate and the direction by the [DPP] would not have been invalid.”

Justice Cummings-Edwards underscored that the issues raised in this case would be better ventilated at the trial court before a jury.

Bisram was charged with the murder of Narinedatt, a young father of two, of Number 72 Village Corentyne, Berbice. He was later discharged at the end of the PI by Magistrate Singh who ruled that the prosecution failed to establish a prima facie case against him to warrant a committal.

It was reported that on the night of October 31, 2016, Narinedatt attended a party Bisram hosted at his home. It is alleged that Bisram made sexual advances to Narinedatt. It was also reported that after the carpenter rejected Bisram’s advances by slapping him, Bisram ordered some men to kill him.

Narinedatt’s lifeless body was later found on the roadway. Five other men are currently on remand awaiting trial at the High Court in Berbice for Narinedatt’s murder.