Justice in election fraud cases is better served by a magistrate than a jury

Dear Editor,
District Leader Albert Baldeo, a former Magistrate, Senior Prosecutor and Police Legal Advisor in Guyana, who holds the distinction of being the first Special Prosecutor appointed in Guyana’s history, way back in 1985, made the following comments when asked about the pending legal process of the election fraud cases, as pertains to a special trial before Magistrate Daly, and led by Special Prosecutor Darshan Ramdhani, KC.
Baldeo emphasised that juries can be manipulated, or unduly biased, especially by political considerations for the defendants who were representatives of the party that lost the elections. The pool of jurors may be unfairly biased, as APNU/AFC Coalition’s stronghold is in the very Region, Region 4, where the trial is being held.
He surmised that a competent, unbiased magistrate may be a more judicially objective option, and such a functionary cannot escape scrutiny and accountability for any injustice, as the numerous jurors on a jury can. Moreover, in the event of a finding of guilt, the magistrate can impose consecutive, instead of mere concurrent sentences, to make up for any deficit in punishment for such heinous crimes.
Mr. Baldeo was the first Special Prosecutor appointed, in 1985. He was then a Senior State Counsel for the Director of Public Prosecutions. He spearheaded massive Government frauds in the then-constituted Special Fraud Court, which were prevalent during the Burnham era at various corporations, including the Gold Board, Guyana Police Force, Ministry of Finance, Guyana Defence Force, Guyana Co-op Bank, and other entities. Then head of the judiciary, Chancellor Massiah, convened this historic court for the first time in Guyana’s history, and the then DPP, Mr. Emmanuel Ramao, chose his star prosecutor, Albert Baldeo, to lead the prosecution.
Baldeo stated: “I had the then High Commissioner, who carried out sealed and stamped Guyana gold via diplomatic channels, testify that the Gold Board employees siphoned off ounces prior to each shipment, and misappropriated same. Clerk Fay Ashby stole millions from a Ministry, and Doodnauth Singh made the mistake of putting her to testify. I cross-examined her until she cried on the stand, and virtually admitted to the grand larceny. Vigilance Police Officers who confiscated and stole seized flour from trawler captain Pritipaul Singh had the best lawyers – Santos, McKay, Doodnauth. They were also found guilty. The late Magistrate Ramraj Jagnandan, later Justice Jagnandan, convicted all 19 cases over 6 months.
“Magistrates understand the law better than juries, who can be unpredictable, especially in Guyana. Of course, I got death threats as a Special Prosecutor, but that only inspired me more! The cases were all very strong, and none of these defendants won their appeals. Justice was served.”

Vishnu Bisram