Special prosecution service being mulled
Police would handle minor offences
By Patrick Denny
October 13, 2002
Chancellor of the Judiciary, Justice Desiree Bernard, is to examine the possibility with the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) of setting up a special prosecution service.
The service would relieve the Police of prosecuting all but minor offences in the Magistrate's courts.
The Chancellor also told Stabroek News that she intends to consult with the magistrates to ensure better use is made of their power to impose suspended sentences and to order community service in lieu of incarceration. These measures are designed to ease the overcrowding in the country's prisons. Overcrowding has been a longstanding problem and has been cited as a contributory factor to the February 23 breakout from the Georgetown Prisons.
She added that other measures are being contemplated to ease the number of prisoners on remand and among these is the introduction of paper committals for persons who wish to plead guilty to indictable charges from the time they are laid.
The establishment of the prosecution service was raised at a meeting with representatives of the Guyana Bar Association, the DPP's Chambers, the Prisons Service, the Judiciary and the Magistracy as well as the Guyana Human Rights Association that the Chancellor convened to look at the report of the Rex McKay Committee. McKay, a senior counsel, was appointed by the Chancellor earlier this year to chair a committee to review the criminal justice system and to make recommendations to address the problems it identified. The committee comprised representatives of the Guyana Bar Association, the Guyana Women Lawyers Association and government and non-governmental agencies.
The establishment of the service is one of the measures being contemplated to assist in reducing the delay in hearing criminal cases but the Chancellor concedes that the remuneration of counsel attached to the DPP's Chambers would have to be improved to assist in the recruitment of the additional lawyers that would be required.
The Chancellor noted that it is desirable that counsel from the DPP's Chambers should be associated with indictable offences from their inception, since many a good case is lost because of the inadequate presentation at the preliminary stages.
It has also been argued by some that police prosecutors are no match for the defence lawyers they are pitted against.
The Chancellor told Stabroek News that the meeting also noted the need for better collaboration between the Police and the DPP's Chambers, which has complained of the less than timely submission of statements to it by the Police.
Another complaint by the DPP's Chambers is the delay in submissions by the magistrates of depositions related to indictable offences. The Chancellor said that the magistrates should sign depositions at the time they are made.
With regards to the preparation of the depositions, the Chancellor said that the meeting noted that these are still being done on manual typewriters and it was suggested that she explores the possibility of outsourcing this work.
She is to raise these and a number of related matters including the need to tighten up and improve the remand process when she meets with them at another forum she is to convene.
Another recommendation from the meeting which the Chancellor says that she is taking up with the relevant authorities is the need for a Bail Act and the need for a general policy to avoid inconsistencies in the granting of bail that now occurs from one magistrate to the next.
With regards to the issue of the imposition of sentences of community service, the Chancellor said that she intends to consult with the Minister of Human Services to identify the institutions where community service could be performed and to make arrangements for proper supervision and security.
She added that she would be consulting with the Director of Prisons to identify those offences for which a suspended sentence could be imposed. She also disclosed that she would be consulting with the Minister of Home Affairs to ensure the proper functioning of the Parole Board.
Another of the McKay committee's report to which urgent consideration is being given is the establishment of a special Coroner's Court staffed by one or more magistrates to conduct inquests into unnatural deaths. The Coroner's Act defines death as that which is caused by extra-judicial killings, where it occurs in a sudden, violent or unnatural manner, where there is reasonable suspicion that it did not result from natural causes; or where any person is criminally responsible for causing it.
The Chancellor said that thought is also being given to the implementation of the committee's recommendation that preliminary inquiries should be abolished. She noted that it would require additional judges as the indictable matters would be referable directly to the High Court.
In addition to the McKay Commit-tee, which looked at the criminal procedures the Chancellor also appointed former Chancellor of the Judiciary, Kenneth George, to review the rules of civil procedures in the High Court. She said that she expected the first draft of his report shortly and that she would then consult with the practitioners about their implementation.
As part of the programme to improve the administration of justice, the Chancellor said that Justice Martin Stevens from the United Kingdom is here to conduct a seminar on sentencing for magistrates and another for judges.