Justice delayed Editorial
Stabroek News
October 16, 2001

In their report dated July 2000 on the judicial system in Guyana the two English judges Esyr Lewis and John Baker who had come here in a project supported by the British government said that they had "found evidence of unacceptable delay in the disposal of litigation throughout the legal system" and that "the courts do not enjoy the public respect and confidence they ought to have".

These conclusions are no surprise. Several years ago several senior counsel had written a letter to President Cheddi Jagan stating that the situation in the courts was desperate and offering to sit part time as judges to help clear up the backlog. There was some interest but as is so often the case nothing happened, a combination of poor follow up be the then Attorney General and the judicial administration and a lack of focus.

The two judges made a large number of recommendations for improving the situation. These included the appointment of temporary judges and part time judges, asking judges to report on the status of cases before them, increasing the present quota of judges, changing the rules of court to provide for the more efficient management of cases by the judges hearing them, urging that a practice direction be issued requiring that counsel on each side be required to lodge with the court at least twenty-four hours before the hearing a short summary of the relevant facts, the issues to which they gave rise and the submissions to be made with the cases in support , the introduction of the judicial review process to replace the prerogative writs, creating specialist divisions of the court, issuing sentencing guidelines and options, doing away with preliminary hearings and so on. The government sat on the report for well over a year and did absolutely nothing.

Earlier this month the British government sent down some more personnel in a follow up mission obviously in an effort to get things moving. They met the Chancellor, the Chief Justice, the Attorney General, the Executive of the Bar Association and a number of other persons. The press conference held while they were here did not encourage one to believe that anyone here had done any work on the report.

We urge the new Attorney General, who comes from an active practice, to take the bull by the horns. Most of these proposals are quite obviously sensible and desirable and some should not be difficult or expensive to implement. What is required is some real work and some imagination, in co-operation with the judicial administration.

Many people have lost confidence in the administration of justice. It is widely seen to be too slow and inefficient and in some cases the charges are even more serious. If some senior lawyers are willing to give part time service, as we believe still to be the case, this opportunity should be seized and a mechanism devised and introduced. And several of the proposals such as for better case management and the submission in advance of facts and arguments would cost nothing and can surely be implemented fairly soon with the help of the Bar Association.

It is disgraceful and unacceptable that reports like this, which offer practical remedies for dealing with important social problems, should be ignored, particularly as the British High Commissioner has indicated that further assistance would be available. Over to you, Attorney General.