Is there any discrimination here? Editorial
Guyana Chronicle
October 2, 2003

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OUR High Court is abuzz with lawyers on opposite sides of the judicial spectrum positing appropriate and inappropriate methods by which the judiciary selects cases for trial.

At issue is the DPP's placing of Mark Benschop on the list of cases scheduled for trial in the October session of the Demerara Assizes, ahead of scores of other offenders whose cases have been awaiting trial dates for years.

Up until recently, inmates would climb onto the roof of the Camp Street penitentiary complaining about the agonizingly long time it was taking the judiciary to give them a court hearing.

And the infamous Jailbreak Five - the prisoners whose bloody escape on Mash Day 2002 sparked an unprecedented spate of violent crimes that have eaten into the social fabric of our once relatively serene country - partly attributed their escape to the languishing of offenders in jail.

As far as the Mark Benschop matter, that isn't the case.

Following investigations into the July 3, 2002 invasion of the Office of the President in which Benschop and others were involved, Benschop and Philip Bynoe were jointly charged with treason. Bynoe has been and still is at large having, to date, evaded police arrest.

The Chambers of the Deputy Public Prosecution (DPP) refused to prosecute the case against Benschop. Notwithstanding, a preliminary inquiry was duly conducted in accordance with law and Benschop was committed to stand trial for treason at the criminal session of the High Court of the Supreme Court of the Judicature.

The committal order was made in July (2003), the depositions prepared, the indictment filed (by the DPP that had refused to prosecute in the first instance) and the case listed for trial at the Demerara Criminal Assizes scheduled to commence on October 7, 2003.

What a phenomenon!

Analysts, aware of how long advocates have been lobbying for the judiciary to speed up the trial of seemingly forgotten cases, expressed alarm at the relative speed with which once unwilling prosecutors are suddenly ready to proceed with the Benschop treason trial.

Just three months after being committed, the case is ready to be heard.

Some people are asking whether this is the result of an improved judicial system, or an example of preferential treatment!

If it's the former, that ought to be good news for the scores of "backlog" cases begging for due trial dates. If it's the latter, then by whom?

Not surprisingly, the Benschop case has brewed into a steamy topic. Scores of inmates are in prison - some as long as seven years - awaiting their day in court! No wonder, then, that eight prisoners are challenging the DPP's placing of Benschop's trial case for hearing later this month, when they have not been given any indication of their cases seeing the light of day.

If our recollection is right, a total of 57 reported murder cases that date back to 1996 still await trial dates!

The judiciary, or court system, is one of the three branches of Government - the other two being the Executive Branch and the Legislative Branch. And the courts are the most visible part of our legal system.

The court system is designed to serve the public and society and, indeed, decisions made in our courts influence our lives in countless ways.

Against claims by skeptics that the Executive Branch of Government controls the judiciary, rebuttals by the Executive Branch and by the judiciary itself are that the judiciary is an independent, autonomous branch of Government.

Our sense of judicial autonomy is that the judiciary is independent, open and impartial, committed to achieving justice.

But for the judiciary to be fair and impartial, its goal must be to provide fair and equal treatment to all people, regardless of their wealth, position, race, gender, religion, ethnic background or physical disability.

How, then, do we interpret Benschop's treason trial being readied for hearing years ahead of other cases? How unjustifiable is the question: Is there any discrimination here?