Confidence in the administration of justice is declining
- Berbice Bar Association president

Stabroek News
May 3, 2000

President of the Berbice Bar Association, attorney-at-law Mirza Sahadat has expressed the view that despite laudable efforts, including the establishment of a Land Court in Berbice and a full complement of magistrates, public confidence in the administration of justice continues to decline.

In his opinion, "if this decline is not arrested and confidence restored, we will decline into what is sometimes termed a lawless society."

Speaking recently at the opening session of the inaugural sitting of the Court of Appeal in New Amsterdam, Sahadat referred to five key players in the "wheel of administration of justice" - the state, the courts, lawyers, the police and the public, positing that each is an indispensable cog and if one fails, the total system is affected.

Referring to the state, the lawyer argued that "the state must ensure that magistrates and judges are adequately paid and are given such amenities that are commensurate with their status. They should not be placed in a position to ask favours because a favour asked would result in a favour demanded."

According to the Corriverton-based attorney, "it is the duty of the state to adhere strictly to the separation of powers principle. Magistrates and judges must be free to act independent of any interference from the state."

Touching on the courts, the Bar Association president said they have been under heavy artillery in recent times in the form of inadequate penalties, disproportionate sentencing among magistrates and judges for the same offence and in the granting of ex-parte injunctions.

Apart from these shortcomings there is a growing perception that all are not equal in the eyes of the law, he suggested.

Sahadat argued that "it is most essential in the dispensation of justice that all must be treated equally whether rich or poor, businessman or ordinary citizen ... only in this way would there be respect for the rule of law."

Referring to his peers, he stated that lawyers are not without blame for the erosion of public confidence in the administration of justice. A few of them, he said, are guilty of lack of preparation; unreasonable requests for adjournments; misleading the court; failing to appear on being paid by litigants; taking more cases than they can handle; employment of touts; dishonest and corrupt practices; appearing where there is a clear conflict of interest and harassment of witnesses. These practices bring the whole of the profession into disrepute.

Turning his attention to the police, Sahadat argued that this arm of the administration of justice leaves much to be desired. He called on them to investigate complaints thoroughly before making charges and not to leave it to the courts to decide. The attorney further argued that prosecutions must be disposed of expeditiously.

According to Sahadat, it should not take approximately six months for the police to seek and obtain advice from the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) on indictable charges.

And "persons must not be arrested because the other side has influence or friends in the Force or because of any other reason than the performance of their duties in a professional manner. No one should be above the law," he told his audience.

A blind eye must not be turned to unlawful acts by persons of wealth and influence whilst the ordinary citizen faces the full force of the law, he stressed.

"Emphasis," he said, "must be placed on having trained professional police prosecutors, failing which the course of justice will be rail-roaded by an average defence counsel."

The Berbice Bar Association president declared that "we must act quickly to restore respect for the rule of law. To do so we must first appreciate that these problems exist and we must have the will and resources available to deal with them. To this end the Berbice Bar will give its unstinting support to any effort that seeks to restore public confidence in the administration of justice."