A Coordinating Committee comprising representatives of the justice system who will meet regularly to address problems would give direction to the varying offices, thereby constituting a holistic approach in addressing case backlog.
This is according to Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs Basil Williams, who at a press conference on Thursday said that the coordination of the entire legal system will address the backlog of cases.
“What happens at one end affects what happens at the other so we cannot resolve the prison (overcrowding) issue unless we deal with the Police Superintendent…he deploys prosecutors…if they’re not properly supervised they can be responsible for a lot of backlog,” Minister Williams explained.
The backlog of cases in the criminal realm has been an issue plaguing the judiciary since time immemorial. To address this issue, legislation was enacted introducing committal proceedings to fast-track preliminary inquiries. At the Magistrate’s Court, an accused had to wait four to five years for his trial to be completed then a similar period before a judge and jury in the High Court, all the while languishing in prison.
“When the paper committals were introduced, magistrates started applying them, but it was recognised that you were basically transferring the problem from the Magistrate’s Court to the High Court,” Minister Williams explained.
The paper committal proceedings saw the prosecutor handing over the evidence against the accused to his attorney. If after examination it was determined that a prima facie case existed, in the interest of not wasting the court’s time, parties then consented to committing the accused to stand trial in the High Court.
“It meant that trials kept climbing and the figures kept increasing rapidly … a judge would take about three to four trials per session which takes three months… so we still have that problem right now and it has to be addressed,” Minister Williams explained.
He added that the Chancellor of the Judiciary (ag) Carl Singh must address this issue as the administration upon assuming office enacted legislation for the independence of the judiciary.
Nevertheless, the Ministry has allocated a budgetary estimate of US$49,020 to employ six part-time judges for a six-month duration.
“That exercise will be funded by the IDB (Inter-American Development Bank)…that is still in the pipeline…IDB visited me on Monday, and I will meet with them again today (May 19). Once they approve the sums, we will start incurring expenses,” Minister Williams explained.
Additionally, US$327,000 is budgeted to install voice verbatim recordings in the High Court and in those Magistrate’s Courts that deal with serious criminal matters.
“That will certainly speed up trials because we have an old system where judges and magistrates take evidence by writing in their own hand… these things once implemented will certainly improve the quality of the delivery of speedy justice in Guyana,” the Attorney General said.
Guyana has partnered with the IDB to implement the New Justice Sector Programme which is designed to consolidate justice sector improvements. The programme will see the establishment of a Law Revision Office and a revision of Guyana’s laws, updating them to 2015.
Additionally, a Permanent Law Reform Commission with a Secretariat will focus on continuously examining Guyana’s laws and making recommendations on areas of reform.
Judges, magistrates and prosecutors will also be trained in sentencing and the writing of decisions as part of a holistic approach to ensure efficiency within the judicial sector. (GINA)