Improving the justice system Editorial
Guyana Chronicle
January 20, 2002

JUSTICE, they say, must not only be done, but must appear to have been done.

For the public to have confidence in the administration of justice, all efforts have to be made to make the system function with the greatest possible efficiency and perceived competence and integrity.

Frequent complaints by the public about exploitation and even breach of agreements by members of the practicising bar, or over the long delays in trial of cases - justice delayed is recognised as justice denied - are also concerns that require urgent attention.

In the circumstances, it is a most welcome development that the Chancellor of the Judiciary, Desiree Bernard, has taken the initiative to establish a committee to review the practices and procedures of the criminal justice system. Also welcome is the appointment of a former Chancellor to review the Civil Rules of Court.

The very experienced Senior Counsel, Rex McKay, has been appointed to head the Review Committee that is to make recommendations on needed requirements for improving the laws, practices and procedures of the criminal justice system.

On that committee will also be sitting representatives of the Chambers of the Attorney General and Director of Public Prosecutions, a Judge of the Appeal Court, the acting Chief Magistrate and representatives of the Police Service, the Guyana Human Rights Association and the Guyana Bar Association.

Ex-Chancellor Kenneth George will shortly begin his task of reviewing the Civil Rules of Court by first meeting with members of the judiciary and the legal profession. It is something that is very long overdue, dating back to the 1950s. The Chancellor is hoping to have reports on the tasks assigned to Justice George and the McKay Committee by the end of May.

The Carter Centre deserves praise for the assistance it is providing to make these reviews possible which are obviously being done with the prior knowledge of the Executive arm of the government.

Law Reform
As Chancellor Bernard awaits the reports on the reviews being undertaken, it is to be hoped that the authorities, and the Attorney General's Chamber in particular, would take steps for the creation of a much-needed Law Reform Commission, something that has been neglected for far too long.

Indeed, not since the 1970s when a then Law Revision Committee functioned with Shridath Ramphal, Bryn Pollard and Francis Harris, has any serious effort been made by successive governments, from then to the present, to ensure that this country has a functioning Law Reform Commission.

One glaring example of the urgent necessity to have such a mechanism in place as part of the process for overall improvement in the justice system, emerged during the elections petition on the conduct of the 1997 general election. There was the shocking disclosure that the court cannot accept as valid a faxed copy of a letter from the Chairman of the CARICOM Audit Commission, a distinguished West Indian jurist, to correct an error in the Commission's report

That would have been normal in various jurisdictions in the Caribbean Community where law reform is recognised as a vital process, but not acceptable here in Guyana because of the evident deficiencies, backwardness in existing laws and practices that should long, long ago have been changed.

This matter must now be given priority by the government as demonstration of its own willingness to stop a practice associated with previous governments, both under the PNC and PPP, of treating the judiciary as a sort of 'step child' or 'distant cousin', in the words of one respected Senior Counsel, in relation to the priorities often given to other social services - such as the health, education and housing.

The present Attorney General is well placed by his own long association with the legal profession to identify the members for a Law Reform Commission, among them former Chancellors of the Judiciary and senior members of the bar in private practice. We look forward to early action on this issue as we await the recommendations from the reviews commissioned by Chancellor Bernard.