Fugitive Offenders Act updated to allow greater cooperation on transnational crime and extradition requests

Fugitive Offenders Act updated to allow greater cooperation on transnational crime and extradition requests

The National Assembly on Monday passed the Fugitive Amendment Bill, with several changes that seek to increase cooperation between Guyana and other countries on the question of extradition.

In introducing the Bill to the House, Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Anil Nandlall, noted that the Amendments are timely and necessary to combat organized and transnational crime.

The amended legislation deals with extradition and the improvement of the Government-to-Government process.

The Amended Bill also seeks to allow evidence adduced in another country into the record of Guyana, so that the presiding Magistrate can authenticate the evidence before him or her. 

The Amendments also introduce a new provision to the existing laws, enabling the inclusion of records of evidence that would otherwise not be admissible. 

Under Section 2 of the Principal Act, a fugitive offender is defined as a person who is accused or alleged to have been unlawfully at large after conviction of an extraditable offence committed under the jurisdiction of Guyana or any commonwealth or foreign territory and is/or suspected to be in any other country/territory other than the country in which the offence was committed or the person was convicted.

“Simply put, if a person in the United States, commits an extraditable offence and is convicted of an extraditable offence in the United but flees to Guyana and is in Guyana the law enforcement agencies in America can initiate a process to extradite that person to the US, either to stand trial or serve the sentence imposed if he is convicted. And as I said earlier, it is based on reciprocity so the same applies to a person who has committed an offence in Guyana or is convicted of an offence in Guyana and flees to the United States of America,” the Attorney General stated.

A person can be extradited if that person commits an offence punishable with death, imprisonment for life or a term of not less than two years under the laws of Guyana, as well as the laws of the requesting state.

In relation to concerns raised about the Act and one’s right to due process, AG Nandlall said the Amendments will not compromise due process.

“Extradition serves the essential purpose of facilitating international cooperation in the administration of justice by allowing for the transfer of individuals, accused persons or convicts of crime from one country to another for trials or punishment,” AG noted.

The proposed changes also aim to allow for a wider array of evidence, including records of the case, to be considered during extradition hearings.

Opposition Member of Parliament, Attorney Khemraj Ramjattan, while supporting the legislation on the grounds that it will strengthen the country’s fugitive laws, expressed worry that the amended legislation could also allow for inadmissible evidence to be used to facilitate an extradition.  

“In the extant regime of laws that we have in Guyana, it must be evidence that is admissible under our laws, whereas, this amendment seeks to give a record that can have what is called, in my opinion, and based on my interpretation of it, inadmissible evidence, inadmissible evidence. So, there is obviously a derogation from what used to be, that it must accord to the principles of admissibility, namely relevance, cogency, compelling nature of the evidence, and all of that. But what we are now seeing here, is that whenever we do a record of evidence, we can have that which, as evidence would not otherwise be admissible under the laws of Guyana,” MP Ramjattan explained. 

Opposition MP Geeta Chandan-Edmond, while supporting the legislation, warned against abuse of the changes.

“I reiterate the need for government to use this legislation not for political reasons but to safeguard the state and the people of country, and our citizens. Lest we forget the process for extraditing a person can be cumbersome and it takes several months to finalize even if a person consented to their extradition…So, there must be the interest of the state considered and equally as well the rights of the individual,” MP Chandan-Edmond said. 

Minister of Home Affairs, Robeson Benn and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hugh Todd were among MPs who also supported the Amendments. After more than two hours of debate, the Amendments to the Fugitive Act were passed by the Assembly. 

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