Gov’t, PPP in fiery debate over “cut and paste” coroners legislation

Last Updated on Thursday, 14 January 2016, 20:27 by Denis Chabrol

On Thursday evening, the Government side of the National Assembly was forced to mount a defence for the Coroners Amendment Bill that was presented to the House by Attorney General Basil Williams after it was labelled as a ‘plagiarized’ piece of law.

Williams in presenting the Bill for its reading stated that it paves the way for the State to conduct inquests into unnatural deaths that happened years ago.

“This is nothing partisan, I don’t know why anyone would have an objection to finding the truth…a promise was made to the families of those died in the crime wave…families are still greiving and it is under these circumstances we have proposed the amendment to this Act,” he stated.

People’s Progressive Party (PPP) Member of Parliament (MP) Adrian Anamayah told the House that the amendment that was presented by Williams was a wholesale “copy and paste” from a similar legislation in neighbouring Trinidad and Tobago.

“Why is it are we doing a piece meal amendment…It is a cut and paste operation and we can do much better in this House…the persons who elected us need better in this House,” stated Anamayah.

The MP also stated that the House needs to legislate the requirements for coroners and not leave it up to the Judicial Service Commission.

“The main problem coroners are faced with when conducting these inquests is the availability of civilian inquests…this needs to be addressed in any Bill, any amendment that we are putting forward,” he said.

Meanwhile, ex-Home Affairs Minister Clement Rohee accused the Government of being up to grand mischief by attempting to pass the legislation.

“Approaching this act to me is like taking a bowl of spaghetti and picking and choosing what you want in this act…the coroners that are likely to be identified are likely to be politically selected, that is the mischief, that is the mischief Mr Speaker,” Rohee noted.

Responding to the concerns raised by Anamayah, Vice President Khemraj Ramjattan stated that there is nothing wrong with presenting a “cut and paste” legislation as long as it gets the job done.

“What is wrong with cut and paste if it is going to reach the requirements if it meets the needs,” he said adding “piecemeal is better than nil-meal…when they were in government they did not seek to do anything with the recommendations of the Disciplined Services Commission.”

He also refuted claims by the Opposition that the Bill was aimed at creating mischief.

Ramjattan said “we do not have any political mischief, it is the Judicial Service Commission, not the AG that will appoint those persons…they are so loaded with work, they might not be in a position to do this work.”

Meanwhile, Former Attorney General Anil Nandlall, heaped criticism on the Bill saying it should go to a Special Select Committe for a more definitive overhaul.

We would like the implementation of the discipline forces report which essentially request that a holistic review be done to this Bill…that commissions report should not be wasted…we are basing our request for an overhaul on that recommendation and that recommendation came as a result of a review of the entire act…” Nandlall said.

Nandlall stated that the principal Bill was passed in 1887 and does not reflect current realities hence the need for an entire review.

“It is an abysmal failure of an attempt to reform the law,” he stated.

With regards to the “cut and paste” issue he said that it speaks to the pride of the country and does not reflect the supposed intelligence that the Attorney General possesses.

In a final retort, Williams stated “for the Opposition to say to the government…we not concerned with what you brought you must take this..democracy does not work that way…they are confused by the democracy that they haven’t practiced in the last 23 years.”

He said that the Opposition has to take the Bill “talem qualem” and there is no need for it to be sent to the Special Select Committee.

The Bill was later passed in the House without any additional amendments.