CCJ suspends Appeal Court ruling for Bisram to face murder trial

…orders DPP, Police not to arrest him until appeal is determined

By Feona Morrison

A ruling rendered by the Guyana Court of Appeal on May 31, for US-based Guyanese businessman Marcus Bisram to face trial for the 2016 murder of Berbice carpenter Faiyaz Narinedatt, was on Friday suspended by the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ).

Marcus Bisram

Guyana’s final court of appeal has also ordered the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Shalimar Ali-Hack, SC, not to take steps to arrest Bisram pending the hearing and determination of an appeal filed by him against the ruling of the lower court.
Bisram therefore remains a free man until the CCJ pronounces on his application to set aside the Appeal Court’s ruling. However, he has been ordered by the CCJ to remain in Guyana and present himself to the Divisional Commander or Deputy Commander of Police ‘B’ Division on Monday of every week until the matter is determined.
He has also been ordered to lodge his passport with the Registrar of the Supreme Court of Judicature by noon of June 14, 2021.
Following the granting of special leave to appeal, Bisram was instructed by CCJ Judges Jacob Wit, Maureen Rajnauth-Lee, and Peter Jamadar to file a Notice of Appeal by June 18, 2021.

Dead: Faiyaz Narinedatt

On May 31, 2021, the Guyana Court of Appeal overturned an order of certiorari quashing the DPP’s directive, which was granted by High Court Judge Simone Morris-Ramall in June 2020. The court’s decision was unanimous.

In June 2020, Justice Morris-Ramlall issued an order of certiorari quashing the directive by Ali-Hack to Magistrate Renita Singh for Bisram to be committed to stand trial for the capital offence in the High Court.
Justice Morris-Ramlall had also granted an order prohibiting the DPP from bringing an indictment for murder against Bisram in the High Court.
Bisram was released from prison, where he had been on remand. Following a Preliminary Inquiry (PI) on March 30, 2020, Magistrate Singh had discharged the charge against Bisram and informed him that he was free to go, after finding that the prosecution had failed to establish a prima facie case against him.
However, on the day of the discharge, the DPP exercised her powers under section 72 (1) and (2) (ii) (b) of the Criminal Law (Procedure) Act to request that the depositions be sent to her, and directed the magistrate to reopen the PI with a view to committing Bisram. The magistrate complied, and thereafter called on Bisram, who had been rearrested, to lead a defence.
At the close of the case for the defence, the Magistrate found that there was insufficient evidence to support the charge, and adjourned the matter to April 6, 2020 for further directions from the DPP. On April 6, 2020, the DPP directed that Bisram be committed to stand trial in the High Court. This direction was duly complied with on the said date by the Magistrate.
Bisram then moved to the High Court, seeking judicial review of the DPP’s directive.

Director of Public Prosecution (DPP), Shalimar Ali-Hack, SC

In ruling that the DPP’s directive for committal was unlawful and unreasonable, Justice Morris-Ramlall, among other things, held that the evidence disclosed against Bisram by the prosecution did not meet the required evidentiary threshold to support calling on him to lead a defence.
In fact, the Judge ruled that no prima facie case had been made out against him to put him on trial by a jury before a Judge. “…The evidence is insufficient, or, in other words, it is not of the quality that a reasonable jury properly directed could safely convict on it.”
Ali-Hack then filed an appeal against Justice Morris-Ramlall’s decision with the Appeal Court.

Jury trial
In overturning the decision of the High Court, Chancellor of the Judiciary, Justice Yonette Cummings-Edwards, had underscored that the issues raised in the State’s case against Bisram would be better ventilated at the trial court by a jury.
“The issues raised, we think, would have been better ventilated at the trial court, where the trial judge would have weighed all the issues in relation to the evidence and decided whether or not it would have been left for a jury,” she had said.
According to the Chancellor, “The decision to commit by the magistrate would have had to be based on the evidence which the DPP ought to have reviewed… We are of the view that the committal proceedings by the magistrate and the directive by the Director of Public Prosecutions would not have been invalid.”
Meanwhile, in her ruling, Justice Morris-Ramlall had outlined that the evidence of Chaman Chunilall was the body and soul of the prosecution’s case against Bisram, and that there was no other evidence, either direct or circumstantial, linking him to the crime.
“At the close of the case for the prosecution, the evidence of Chunilall was totally discredited and rendered manifestly unreliable. The evidence remained substantially the same at the close of the case for the defence,” the High Court Judge had noted.
However, citing a plethora of case laws, the Guyana Court of Appeal, in adopting the pronouncements therein, held that “It is not the judge’s job to weigh the evidence and to decide who is telling the truth, and to stop the case merely because he thinks the witness is lying. To do that is to usurp the functions of the jury…”

Evidence sufficient
The DPP had always maintained that her directive for committal was lawful, as there is sufficient evidence against Bisram to warrant a trial by a jury before a judge. In fact, during the appeal hearing, Ali-Hack submitted that the evidence against Bisram is sufficient, and any reasonable jury, if properly directed, can safely convict.
The DPP said the evidence given by Chunilall was admissible, and the issue that arises is the issue of credibility, which is for a jury to decide. “This is a proper case for a committal, for it to go to trial in the High Court,” Ali-Hack said as she urged the court to quash the High Court’s ruling.
During the Appeal Court hearing, Bisram’s lawyers contended that the DPP’s directive to the magistrate was unlawful, as it infringed their client’s constitutional rights provided for in Articles 122 A and 144 (1) of the Constitution of Guyana and the separation of powers doctrine.
However, this contention was rejected by the Court of Appeal, which held that the DPP, in making the directive, acted within the ambit of powers invested in her under the Constitution and statute.

Bisram was extradited from the United States to Guyana in 2019 to face the murder charge. There was an extended fight in US courts to block his extradition. He was then charged and remanded to prison for the murder of Narinedatt, a father of two, of Number 72 Village Corentyne, Berbice.
It is alleged that on the day of the killing, Bisram had a party at his home, which Narinedatt and others attended.  Media reports are that Narinedatt went to the yard and was followed by Bisram, who reportedly came up behind him and started “feeling him up.”
It was reported that Narinedatt slapped and chucked Bisram, who allegedly directed his friends to kill him. According to reports, several men had beaten the carpenter and dumped his body on the Number 70 Village Corentyne, Berbice road.
It was reported that they then drove over his body on the roadway at Number 70 village Corentyne, Berbice to make it appear like a vehicular accident.
Five other men: Orlando Dickie, Radesh Motie, Diodath Datt, Harri Paul Parsram, and Niran Yacoob, are currently awaiting trial at the High Court in Berbice for Narinedatt’s murder.