Berbice Appeal Court inaugurated with pomp

By Daniel DaCosta
Stabroek News
April 20, 2000

The Berbice Court of Appeal held its inaugural sitting yesterday in the Supreme Court of Judicature in New Amsterdam, providing a rare and memorable opportunity for Berbicians.

Scores of curious New Amsterdamers flocked outside the imposing concrete Berbice High Court at the corner of Esplanade and Vryheid roads on the north-western tip of New Amsterdam to witness the unfolding of history.

Shortly after 0900 hrs Chancellor of the Judiciary, Cecil Kennard, flanked by Appeal Court judges Lennox Perry and Prem Persaud inspected a 28-member guard of honour outside the compound on Esplanade Road. The guard of honour then marched past the dais to the right of which stood 'B' Divisional Commander, Assistant Police Commissioner David George, to the beat of ceremonial music by the Guyana Police Force Band.

Among those speaking at the ceremonial opening, which began minutes before 1000 hrs were: Minister of Legal Affairs and Attorney General Charles Ramson; Chancellor Kennard; President of the Berbice Bar Association, Mizra Sahadat; and Senior Counsel Milton Persaud.

The Attorney General in his remarks described the occasion as "the writing of a new chapter in our judicial history." Commending the Chancellor for the implementation of the decision to convene sittings of the Appeal Court in Berbice he said, "the decision will bring justice closer to the people". Persaud traced the history of the Appeal Court in Guyana which was established in June 1966. Referring to the occasion as "a momentous one" the senior lawyer expressed the hope that the sitting of the court will be a regular feature.

Sahadat told the gathering that the bar was happy to be a part of history in the making which will impact significantly on the lives of Berbicians. The attorney referred to the high cost to litigants and the long distance involved in the past in attending Appeal Court hearings in Georgetown and posited that sittings in Berbice would greatly reduce the cost and inconvenience. Sahadat called for better working conditions for magistrates and reeled out a long list of suggestions. They included: free housing, tax-free salaries, access to library facilities and computers, travelling allowances, priority crossing on ferries and VIP access at ports of entry. He also called for the establishment of a Supreme Court library in Berbice since access to research in Georgetown was prohibitive.

The fulfilment of these conditions, he opined, would "insulate magistrates and judges from external influences." He said that "public confidence in the administration of justice continues to decline and must be arrested and corrected if not the society will also decline.

Justice Kennard assured those present that he intended to make the sittings a regular feature.

The Chancellor noted that since the establishment of the Court of Appeal there had been many outstanding decisions which have earned their places in the law reports. He referred to the case of Gobin and Griffith vs the State which received recognition in the Trinidad case of Asjodha vs the State which went to the Privy Council.

Responding to criticisms that it would not be cost effective to have sittings in Berbice the Chancellor said: "Justice was never intended to be measured in terms of monetary cost. Administration of justice can never be cost effective because the courts were never intended to be money-earning institutions. They were meant to serve the community and to give justice to those who have grievances.

"The courts already have heavy work and no attempt should be made to increase their work load. It must be borne in mind that courts cannot settle every dispute and that litigation is costly and time consuming."

Noting that Berbice badly needed a law library, the Chancellor appealed to the Attorney General to see what could be done in this respect, "since lawyers are not bakers. They need their tools of trade."

The head of the judiciary also reiterated his alarm at the ease with which injunctions were granted. Ex parte injunctions are granted as a matter of course, he noted, stating that "no efforts seem to be made to have service effected on the other side before an injunction is granted."

He also announced plans to set up a legal practitioner committee in Berbice since it was inconvenient and costly for litigants and lawyers to attend sittings of the committee in Georgetown. The Chancellor said he had noticed some dissent among members of the Berbice bar and expressed the hope that the co-operation which formerly existed will surface. Also attending the opening were Registrar Sita Ramlall, Justice Winston Moore, Magistrates Oscar Parvattan, Mala Drepaul, Krishndat Persaud and Chandra Sohan, members of the Berbice bar and Regional Chairman Rohit Persaud.