Evidence (Amendment) Bill 2013 – Bill No. 7/20133768 13 Jun, 2013
EVIDENCE (AMENDMENT) BILL 2013 – Bill No. 7/2013
Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs [Mr. Nandlall]: Mr. Speaker, in 1972 our Evidence Act was amended - I have no doubt - to meet the circumstances and exigencies which prevailed at the time. At that time, it was felt that those circumstances necessitated a change of the then Evidence Act to include, with some degree of smoothness and ease, some aspects of evidence in a court of law.
Then, the amendment sought to introduce into evidence medical certificates from a registered medical practitioner, obviously important in litigation, to prove that the injury which was being claimed was sustained in any legal proceedings. That was the major thrust.
It also included post-mortem reports to be admitted into evidence to establish, obviously, the death of a deceased person when such a death becomes an issue of moment in any given legal proceeding.
It also permitted the admission into evidence certificates which were to be submitted by analysts attached to a department of government, which certificates supported the establishment of some scientific fact which became of some evidential value in the determination of any legal dispute.
Those were the changes in 1972 which were made to the Evidence Act, as I said, to meet the demands, circumstances, and needs at the time.
From 1972 to now, the world has changed significantly. Our country has changed. Litigation has changed. But, most importantly, science and technology have made tremendous advances. It is now a recognisable notion in lawmaking that the law must remain as dynamic as it possibly can and change to meet circumstances that develop in a society, lest the law becomes outmoded and out of sync with the changes that are taking place in a society.
Therefore, we, in Guyana, have a duty to ensure that we constantly and we vigilantly review our legislative landscape to bring it up to date with the changes which are taking place in our society, in our constant quest to ensure that our laws, as a social institution and as part of the legal architecture of our country, are kept abreast with the development, the social realities and the scientific realities of today’s world. That is the principle which has inspired the presentation of this Bill to the National Assembly.
It seeks to substitute a provision which we inserted in the law in 1972 to, as I said, meet today’s reality... As I said, in the 1972 law, which we passed in this House and which forms part of our Evidence Act, subsection 4...this Bill seeks to remove that and substitute in its stead a new subsection 4 and to inject into the Evidence Act a wider bracket of reports which can now be admissible in evidence.
Today, if one visits the Magistrate’s Court – and what I am speaking about is very readily discernible by legal practitioners and your Honour will be very much aware of it – a medical certificate can be admitted without the need for that medical practitioner to present himself to testify in relation to that certificate. Obviously, the court always has a residuary discretion and power to summon that medical practitioner if the court or a party, who has an interest in the proceedings, feel that they need to cross-examine or the court needs to conduct some inquisition other than the content of the medical certificate in its quest to arrive at a just decision. It makes it extremely expedient for a certificate to be made admissible in lieu of oral testimony.
What this Bill seeks to do is to expand way beyond the category of medical practitioners to include certificates signed by a finger print expert, a firearm or ammunition expert - which in this instance will be the ballistic expert – a poisonous and noxious substance expert, a local or foreign currency expert, a bone and tissue expert, and those who are trained in the detection of fuel, in the examination or analysis of fuel and fuel related substances. In terms of fuel, as Your Honour is aware, fuel smuggling is an offence, and being in possession of fuel that does not contain a marker of a required proportion is an offence in Guyana. We have prosecutions all across the country in which persons have been charged in relation to these types of offences many a times at great inconvenience and I have no doubt, at great cost and great time expended, to have an analyst or the analyst attached to the Guyana Energy Agency to present himself simply to tender this document.
This Bill would allow the smooth and seamless admission into evidence of a number of analyst certificates that are not currently admissible in the same way that a medical certificate would be or a post mortem certificate is. It is important that we amend our law to have these facilities available in our court and in our constant press also to bring speed to a very slothful legal system. We all know the attendant injustices and social wrongs which flow from the lack of speed at which our criminal and other aspects of the legal system work. So from that perspective this Bill is also a welcome addition to the repertoire of measures which we are pursuing in our effort to bring expedience and dispatch to the legal system of our country.
The other clause that seeks to replace sub-section 5 of Section 43 of the Evidence Act simply continues along that trend to allow analysts that are attached to the Guyana Police Force to be able to fall into this increased bracket of professional or expert personnel whose certificates are now admissible. That is the simple intention of clause 5 as it appears on the Bill. It is simply to allow outside of the realm of Government departments – and I pause here to emphasise that which would have been conducted by, quote and unquote, a Government department in 1972 may not be activities conducted by a department which can now be defined as a Government department because our governmental structure has gone through mammoth and massive changes. We have the creation of a number of semi autonomous and statutory regulated agencies whose conduct and affairs are largely governed by a board as opposed to a minister in charge of a ministry.
Many of these departments used to or would have fallen under a ministry and these analysts would have been attached to the umbrella of a ministry. That position has radically changed and many of these services are now performed by an agency which technically may not fall under a department of government as it would have some years ago. The Guyana Energy Agency while it falls under the office of the Prime Minister is really a statutory body corporate being governed and administered by a board for which there is a chairman. The agency is run by a Chief Executive Officer (CEO), statutorily defined and delineated with responsibilities and the role of the Minister is not an unregulated one but one which is regulated by the statute creating the agency.
This is a Bill that in my view, as small as it is, has great practical value particularly to our legal system, and more specifically because it will have the impact of bringing speed and dispatch and expediency to the system. For professionals who would have had to sacrifice a lot of their time to be in court, now their presence may no longer be as necessary as it would have been prior to this enactment. They can now actually spend a lot of their time concentrating on their work. Of course, we speak here of a whole variety of professional people attached to the various agencies of Government and State. Therefore, I have absolutely no hesitation in lending my full and absolute support to this Bill.
Thank you very much. [Applause]
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