The National Assembly last evening passed the Juvenile Justice (Amendment) Bill 2022, paving the way for Juveniles to be tried together with adults for crimes committed together.
The Bill amends the Juvenile Justice Act of 2018.
The amended legislation caters for cases where a juvenile commits an offence or is alleged to have committed an indictable offence with an adult and that indictable offence cannot be disposed of summarily, for the juvenile to be charged jointly with that adult and for the charge to be heard in one hearing.
The Bill was piloted by Home Affairs Minister, Robeson Benn, who pointed out that the amendments are intended to make the work of the Courts more effective and efficient and not have to be bogged down with separate trials for the same offence.
“So this amendment seeks to remedy the issue of two separate charges being instituted where the juvenile commits an indictable offence which cannot be disposed of summarily with an adult. The current justice system often results in witnessing testifying twice and this speaks to the issue of repetition and of a lot of time being used in dealing with the evidence presented,” the Home Affairs Minister said as he opened the debate on the Bill.
Opposition Member of Parliament, Khemraj Ramjattan, who piloted the 2018 Bill as the then Minister of Public Security, said that the amendments go against international best practices on how juveniles must be treated when they have found to be on the wrong the side of the law.
He said that the 2018 legislation had wide support of both local and international organizations and argued that the government is reversing a progressive step made.
“That fundamental principle is today going to be eroded completely when you now know that that if a juvenile is charged with an adult, to save cost, to save judicial time, we must now have one joint trial as against two separate trials,” Ramjattan argued.
Describing the Amendment Bill as a simple piece of legislation, Attorney General Anil Nandlall, said the interest of the juvenile will not be compromised. He said although the Act is providing for a juvenile to be tried with an adult, the rights of juveniles as enshrined in the constitution will be respected.
“All the other facilities during the course of the trial that this law accords to a juvenile he will get. If the law says that his name must not be published in the press, if the law says that his evidence must be taken in-camera, if the law says that certain persons must be excluded from the courtroom all of that will apply,” Mr. Nandlall explained.
Opposition Member of Parliament, Cathy Hughes, called the amendment callous.
“Young people of Guyana listen to what your “We care” government doing to you….Mr. Speaker, I want to ask a few questions, and one is, where is the data that underpins this decision to bring this amendment,” Hughes questioned.
In closing the debate before the passage of the amendments, Mr. Benn said juveniles in detention are not treated as criminals, noting that they are afforded birthday celebrations and other amenities while incarcerated.