Courts do not enjoy public respect and confidence
-- says report of British jurists by Wendella Davidson
Guyana Chronicle
September 29, 2001



TWO British Judges, Esyr Lewis and John Baker, who conducted a study of the local judicial system last year, have pointed to a number of shortcomings in the system. They conclude that these weaknesses must be addressed if the system is to function efficiently.

The shortcomings include evidence of unacceptable delay in the disposal of litigation throughout the system, and the perception that the Courts do not enjoy the public respect and confidence, which they ought to have.

In the document released to the media yesterday, the Judges point out that it is fundamental to a free society that it is served by an independent and effective legal system. It is also the fundamental right of every citizen to be fairly treated by the Courts in civil and criminal proceedings.

That fairness is not achieved in the civic or criminal field if justice is unduly delayed, the report added.

In seeking to eliminate the present major problems with the hope that they will be avoided in the future, the Judges have proposed several recommendations. The recommendation relate to the clearing of the backlog of civil and criminal cases in the High Court; unfinished cases; part-time judges; the High Court Judicial establishment and its rules and summons for direction; case management; directions for practice; judicial review, listing of criminal cases in the High Court; guidelines for sentencing and options; filling of vacancies in the judiciary; backlog of cases in the Magistrates Court, and the establishment of a Users Committee.

Attorney General Mr Doodnauth Singh, who chaired the news conference convened at the Court of Appeal, High Street, Kingston, said the April to July 2000 visit by the esteemed gentlemen, was the result of an arrangement with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office of the United Kingdom. The report of the jurists was made public at this news conference.

They were required to assist in the drafting of revised rules for the administration of the Court of Justice; preparation of a training manual and setting of standards for legal personnel engaged in the administration of the Courts of Justice, as well as assisting as deemed necessary in helping to reduce the backlog of civil cases.

The Judges had also consulted with a wide cross-section of people concerned with the administration of justice including the Chancellor; Justices of Appeal; the Chief Justice; Justices of the High Court; Chief Magistrate; Registrar; Attorney General; Director of Public Prosecution; Deputy Commissioner of Police; Professor Aubrey Bishop, former Chancellor of the Judiciary; Chief Welfare Officer; President of the Bar Association and Co-Director of the Human Rights Association.

With the AG at the media conference, were Chancellor of the Judiciary, Desiree Bernard; Chief Justice Carl Singh and British High Commissioner, Edward Glover.

Regarding the clearing of the backlog of civil and criminal cases in the High Court, the report suggested that --

** suitably qualified counsel be appointed on a temporary basis, which could be revoked at anytime.

** the Chief Justice should request the Judges to instruct their clerks to submit forthwith a list of cases which should have been heard and were not, stating the initial date of hearing.

High Court Judges would also provide the Chief Justice with a list of cases in which judgements are reserved or part heard, and that they should be given priority.

** suitably qualified counsel should be made available to sit as judges for a limited period in each year. The counsel who would be allowed to continue in practice would form a cadre of people in judicial work from which appointments can be made to the Magistratesí and High Courts.

Legislation should be drafted for the appointment of such personnel.

** the number of High Court Judges should be increased as soon as possible, to about 15. There would be the Chief justice and 14 others. Also, the salary levels and pension rights of the judiciary should be kept under continuous scrutiny.

** there should be gradual improvements in the general rules, and that a Rules Committee should consider setting up a sub-committee composed of legally qualified members of the profession to advise the committee on changes to the present rules.

** the possibility of one or two High Court Judges travelling to London to observe proceedings relevant to case management should be explored.

** there should be regular use of practice directions, which should be issued under the joint authority of the Chancellor and the Chief Justice.

** a central master list in the Registry should be created which would be updated daily by computer as cases are added to it.

** a statutory code of procedure should be created for the judicial review process, and prerogative writs should be replaced by orders, which can be sought on motion in the High Court. Application for judicial review should not be made unless permission of a judge is obtained.

** there should not be specialist divisions of the High Court - Family Court, etc, given the relatively small number of judges.

** the order in which criminal cases are tried should be decided by the court and not by the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP)., and that it should be determined according to the order in which the indictments have been signed.

** guidelines should be given in cases when a sentence is appealed, to avoid disparate sentencing. Regular seminars for Judges and Magistrate should be organised to enable sentencing problems to be discussed.

** the options for sentencing should be enlarged. There is power to make probation and acts, which should order offenders to undertake a period of suitable community service, and to impose suspended sentences.

Also, steps should urgently be taken to increase the number of probation officers to the full establishment to encourage the use of probation orders. The said officers should be relieved of general welfare work and their salaries should be increased.

** there should be a review of the scale for fees for proceedings in the High Court to a level, which reflects current values.

** the Registrar and Deputy Registrar should be given power to deal with applications for the amendment of writs, service out of the jurisdiction and substituted service with provision for appeal to a Judge in Chambers.

** vacancies in the High Court bench and the Magistratesí Court should be advertised so as to widen the choices that are available. Also, a review should be made of the salary structure and pension arrangements both for Judges and Magistrates.

** the Bar Association should be approached to see whether there is a prospect of a pupillage system being established.

** steps should be taken to resume the publication of law reports containing decisions made in the Guyana Supreme Court, which resolve important legal issues and give guidance on sentencing. In addition, sufficient funds should be provided to the Supreme Court Library, and the appointment of a qualified librarian should be considered.

** efforts should be made to increase the number of Justices in the Court of Appeal to its full complement, and steps must be taken to see that outstanding written judgements needed by the Court of Appeal to enable appeals to go ahead, are provided without further delay.

As it relates to the Magistrates Court, the report recommended that since there are not enough Magistrates to deal with the volume of work, ** the number of Magistrates should be increased to 21.

** that new appointments to the magistracy should be at the Courts where the largest number of cases awaiting trial and preliminary hearings exists, since it was established that some Magistrates do not sit in the afternoons, a situation which contributes further to the size of the backlog.

** the Registrar should examine the listing arrangements in the Magistrates Courts where during the study it was found that most defendants are not represented by counsel, and they may incur substantial imprisonment.

In order to detect delays and other problems, the report suggested that monthly returns be made to the Registrar.

Chief Justice Singh noted that while much of what is contained in the report is deeply appreciated, it would be an exercise in futility if there is no financial input from the Government to have recommendations implemented.

Chancellor Bernard, while commending the report, pointed out that the first concern should be for increased remuneration if the judiciary is to attract persons.

Referring to the complement of judges which currently stands at seven plus the Chief Justice, compared to the recommended quota of 14 overall, Chancellor Bernard said the area has been one which both she and the Chief Justice have sought to address since assuming their respective positions.