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Fire destroys Guyana prison and records, raising legal dilemma
Published on July 11, 2017 Email To Friend    Print Version

A section of what remains of the Camp Street prison after a fire that was set by prisoners on July 9, 2016. Several conviction records and committal warrants are believed to have been destroyed

By Dennis Adonis

GEORGETOWN, Guyana -- With thousands of conviction records, prisoner profiles, sentence particulars, and committal warrants destroyed on Sunday in a massive fire at the Camp Street prison in Georgetown, Guyana, the state may face a legal quandary or a massive judicial and penal confusion as it relates to the inmates that are currently in custody.

While a duplicate record from a case file may offer some significant help, since prisoners are known to provide false names when arrested and convicted, compounded by the non-existence of a fingerprint or photographic profile of a tried person on a case jacket, it may become difficult for the state effectively and fairly to determine who was convicted and who was not.

Moreover, there are legal arguments that a committal warrant cannot be recreated or written up for a second time by a magistrate or judge who did not hand down a sentence.

Several legal precedents have been highlighted, involving cases where a person’s original conviction record was destroyed.

Outside of that, the laws of Guyana forbid the prison system from incarcerating a person without a warrant or an instrument that was issued by a convicting magistrate or judge, to commit that person to prison.

It is on that basis that the state may be in a legal quandary, and may be forced to release a large number of prisoners, since the prison is not in possession of a warrant to continue to detain several hundred prisoners that are currently in custody.

Efforts to solicit a comment from the minister of public security have so far proven futile, while a staff at the office of the Chancellor of the Judiciary told the Guyana Guardian that the publication would have to forward all queries to the Chancellor via a letter.

Of the more than 1,000 prisoners that were removed from the Camp Street prison inferno yesterday evening, it is believed that more than 500 of them are convicts for which the state will face an uphill task to legally keep in prison.

A similar situation can be triggered if the case jackets or warrants for remand prisoners cannot be found at the court registry.

Republished with permission of the Guyana Guardian
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