Guyana: A dysfunctional justice system

A dysfunctional justice system

 March 29, 2018 – Editorial, Kaieteur News

It is not a secret that the country’s justice system does not have the resources, personnel and modern technology in order to make it more efficient. There is a backlog of cases, and even though night court has been introduced, they continue to pile up.

One of the strengths of the justice system is to deter and mitigate crime and punish those who violate the laws with penalties and rehabilitation. However, many believe that our justice system is flawed, in some cases biased, and woefully inadequate.     

A number of jurists have sentenced people to prison for minor offences, placed many on remand, and imposed bail which the poor cannot afford.

The judicial system is known for recognizing status when punishing wrongdoers such as politicians and public officials. Jurists are more likely to imprison the average person who is involved in petty crimes such as stealing mangoes, whereas those who cannot account for millions of dollars of the taxpayers’ money will be accused of mismanagement or misappropriation of funds, and will not be jailed. Herein lies the bias.

Politicians and the rich and powerful are not being handcuffed and dragged into prison like the average person who commits a crime.

In the United States, Canada and several other countries, politicians, businessmen and other high profile professionals have to resign, pay hefty fines or serve time in prison if convicted of a crime. In Guyana, the lack of prosecution of public officials for corruption, money laundering and other crimes shows that our justice system has two sets of laws: one for the rich and another for the poor. It shows that our justice system is not blind.

It is time to rip away the mask of judicial impartiality and admit to the charade that passes on for justice in Guyana.

To be charged for any crime in Guyana, whether it is something as heinous as murder or as trite as possessing a gram of marijuana, is to be sentenced to a very long time in prison because of the remand system and the delay of cases. The concept of remand takes on a whole different meaning in this country where cases routinely take almost five years or more before being tried and a verdict rendered. It is such a dysfunctional justice system that the concept of the presumption of innocence is dismissed as in the theatre of the absurd.

Judges and magistrates are not the only ones to be blamed for the huge backlog of cases. All the stakeholders of the justice system are responsible. They include the police who routinely delay cases due to the fact that all the evidence has not been gathered; lawyers who often seek postponement because they have other cases; magistrates and judges who tend to put off cases because of poor scheduling, poor case management practices by legal clerks, and delays in getting prisoners from the jail to the courts.

If the government and the legal fraternity were to put half of the time and effort expended on the issue of appointing judges to the bench into resolving the delay of cases, the backlog would have been reduced significantly.

The logical conclusion for why so many prisoners are on remand is because there is not enough interest on the part of the government or the legal fraternity to change the status quo of judicial dysfunction in the country.

What is so incredible or perhaps troubling is how comfortable those who are sworn to uphold justice continue to function with such ease in a dysfunctional judicial system. They continue to be blind to the plight of hundreds of ordinary men and women who are trapped in a merciless system. The backlog of cases can be solved by those within the system who are best positioned to demand change and collaborate on solutions.

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  • Mark  On 03/30/2018 at 1:08 am

    American & Canadian police use lethal force on Black and Hispanic men for jaywalking and loitering—misdemeanors rather than felonies!

  • Rosaliene Bacchus  On 03/30/2018 at 1:09 pm

    The US justice system is by no means perfect. Guyana’s justice system is but a reflection of human justice across our planet: bent in favor of the powerful; detrimental to the poor and vulnerable.

  • guyaneseonline  On 03/30/2018 at 10:40 pm

    Court backlog in Barbados being addressed

    Editor’s Note: There are over 3000 cases in limbo in Barbados. … 50% of the prisoners are on remand. Justice Delayed is Justice Denied.
    For decades, there has been talk about having more judges and courtrooms etc… but nothing has happened. This seems to be deliberate.
    It is said on the Barbados Underground blog that many lawyers are corrupt and that the legal system is deliberately set up to enrich lawyers. Delays mean more fees.
    Most politicians are also lawyers so do not expect speedy dynamic changes.
    Barbados has had the money to institute radical changes… Why has it not been done?
    Is the Guyana situation any different?
    Here is a news item relating to the Barbados situation with more promises being made to improve their legal System: –

    Court backlog in Barbados being addressed

    November 7, 2017
    By Julia Rawlins-Bentham.- Caribbean News Now

    BRIDGETOWN, Barbados (BGIS) — Defendants in criminal cases in Barbados will soon have the option of pleading guilty in matters for which they are accused.

    This was one of the areas discussed over the weekend, when members of the island’s judiciary, attorneys and those who work within the criminal justice system underwent a two-day training course conducted by officials from the National Center for State Courts in Sentence Indications Hearings.

    Speaking during the opening of the two-day workshop, attorney general Adriel Brathwaite said Barbados had a situation where more than 50 percent of prison inmates were on remand.

    “It is not a tidy situation… We are all about trying to see how we can address this burning issue with the backlog in the criminal justice system,” he stated.

    Brathwaite explained that the late director of public prosecutions, Charles Leacock, QC, was of the view that many of the accused persons would accept a plea if given the opportunity.
    That vision set the wheels in motion for a draft bill that Brathwaite said he now had in hand. However, he recalled the late DPP requesting that the practice direction be examined first before legislative discussions were held.

    “Thus, we set about discussing with the chief justice our plan to take the process forward. We want to ensure [that] when we move ahead we can go full steam ahead, hence the training over the next two days,” the attorney general said, noting there would be other sessions in the future.

    However, while acknowledging that significant strides were being made to reduce the backlog so far, Brathwaite stressed that additional resources were required if they were to be successful.

    “The present number of judges just cannot get it done. We need to have some additional resources in that regard. Even with Continuous Assizes, the present number of judges with the best will… we need some additional resources,” he emphasised.

    The attorney general also tabled a proposal for a court to handle the more serious matters exclusively. However, he noted that significant strides were made in an effort to reduce the backlog.
    These achievements include the abolition of preliminary inquiries; and the mandatory recording of interviews; practice directions and criminal procedure rules.

    Brathwaite also gave the undertaking that deficiencies in the process would be addressed soon.

    While noting that giving persons the option to accept a guilty plea could assist with the backlog in the court system, Chief Justice Sir Marston Gibson said it was not that simple as it had to be done to withstand appellate scrutiny.

    “There are all sorts of areas in which one can make a mistake,” he said, noting that the workshop was designed to teach members of the judiciary about the procedures and rules for accepting guilty pleas.

    US ambassador to Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean, Linda Taglialatela, said it was hoped the training would achieve four main goals. These, she listed, as:

    1. The expeditious disposal of criminal cases, which would result in the use of valuable court time for cases that truly required a trial;
    2. A reduction in the trauma suffered by victims of crime by avoiding the rigours of a trial;
    3. A reduction in the anxiety suffered by defendants between the time of the charge and the disposition of their cases;
    4. And the saving of resources by reducing those cases which went to trial.

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