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Police disciplinary processes need revising – PCA Chairman

Justice (ret’d) William Ramlal

Chairman of the Police Complaints Authority (PCA), Justice William Ramlal has urged the revision of numerous laws governing Police disciplinary procedures because many of them are out-of-date and in conflict with Guyana’s Constitution, which is the supreme law of the State.
The PCA is an independent body that receives and looks into public complaints regarding Police misconduct, as well as oversees the investigation of any criminal offences allegedly committed by Police ranks.
The Police Complaints Authority Act, Cap 17:02, and the Police (Discipline) Act, Cap 17:01 are substantially the laws that set out the laws and procedures regulating the PCA and they were enacted on December 29, 1989, and May 14, 1975, respectively.
In his 2022 report, which he recently tabled in the National Assembly; Justice Ramlal pointed out that neither of these laws has ever been amended.
As such, he said, “These two laws could not capture the intent and spirit of the 1980 Constitution and its amendments. In some instances, they conflict with the constitutional provisions and sometimes operate unfairly having regard to the fundamental rights articles of the Constitution.”
The PCA Chairman further stated that the Police Act, Cap 16:01 does not adhere to the principles of fundamental rights. An excellent illustration of this, according to him, is the Police’s ability to make arrests under Section 17 of the Police Act and the restrictions placed on this authority by Article 139 (e) of the Constitution. He also brought up Section 8 of the Police Complaints Authority Act, which requires that a complainant satisfy the PCA of the type of evidence that the complainant proposes to present in connection with the complaint and that this evidence must be credible in accordance with Section 9 of the aforementioned Act to avoid being rejected.
“More often than not it is the Police who have this evidence in their possession but the complainant cannot get it because the complaint is against the Police who simply would not give it to the complainant. This, of course, operates unfairly against the complainant,” he added.
Moreover, he said the Police Act was assented to on August 10, 1957, “so it was never intended to capture the spirit and intent of the first Constitution passed in 1966 but rather it was the other way around, for the Police Act to be consistent with the Constitution.”
The retired Judge said that Article 8 of the Constitution establishes the Constitution as the highest law and declares all other laws that conflict with it to be void to the degree of their incompatibility.
Having regard to Article 152 of the Constitution, he concluded that Section 9 of the Police Act is not totally void but for the words “be reason to suspect” which must be interpreted to be “reasonable suspicion” in keeping with Article 139 (e) of the Constitution.
The foregoing is but a few of the inconsistencies in the aforementioned laws, Justice Ramlall noted in his report. He, therefore, suggested that these laws be amended or new laws passed to make the purpose and functions of the PCA effective in curbing or ending Police excesses.
He said, “A good starting point may be the Police Complaints Act of Trinidad and Tobago which provides, inter alia, for the Police Complaints Authority to deal with complaints of Police excesses or omissions from the inception right up to the imposition of penalties, if any.”
But this, he said, would require that other laws be amended.
In his opinion, the investigating of Sergeants and ranks below should be completely under the control of the PCA, while levels of Inspector and above should continue to be disciplined by the Police Service Commission (PSC) in accordance with the Constitution.
“This would resolve the problem of the Police investigating the Police which as it stands now is largely ineffective and unlawful,” Justice Ramlal emphasised. (G1)