The National Assembly has passed a bill enabling judges and magistrates to electronically record court proceedings and both government and opposition members agreed that it would see fewer delays in the legal system.
The passage of the Recording of Court Proceedings Bill was unanimous on Monday evening although members of the opposition voiced concerns about its effective implementation.
Attorney General Anil Nandlall tabled the bill, which seeks to provide for the recording of court proceedings by electronic or other means.
There have been numerous calls over the years for electronic recording of court proceedings. It has been argued that manual recording by magistrates and judges contribute to the delays in the judicial process and the backlog of cases.
Nandlall told the National Assembly there are many complaints about the delays that affect the judicial system and the injustices they create in the criminal and civil justice administration.
He said that government had provided resources and embarked on working with the judiciary to deal with this problem. He mentioned statutory interventions and policies implemented to “bring efficiency to the system,” in terms of accelerating the rate at which cases are being disposed of.
“This system here is long overdue…government has recognised that,” he said.
However, such an initiative was not initially part of the modernisation of the justice sector plans, he noted. He said that he later wrote to the Inter-American Development Bank, the agency funding the project, and asked for an amendment to the project to include such an initiative and it granted his request.
Nandlall informed the House that the recording equipment was already in Guyana and he stressed that it is the “most modern in the world.”
He explained that the recording system would maintain a large human component in order to correlate typed records with what is generated by the machines.
He said that this system would be initiated as part of a pilot project in the Court of Appeal, the Chief Justice’s Court and the Commercial Court to deal with any problems that may arise.
He added that the goal is to eventually have the system in every court in the Supreme Court as well as in the magistrate’s courts and to make the final product the lawful records of the proceedings.
He said too the outline of the Bill is similar to the one used in Trinidad and Tobago, while noting that only minor changes were made.
APNU supported the bill but MPs Basil Williams and James Bond, both attorneys, expressed several concerns regarding the implementation of the bill.
Williams questioned what would happen if there were a conflict between the lawyer’s notes and the court’s transcript. “It is welcomed and we believe that to just set it up in the civil court is somewhat [misguided]. You have the Court of Appeal, the Commercial Court and the Constitutional Court, those courts listen largely to arguments… we believe that the pilot should have been done in the assizes,” he said, arguing that such a system would be more important in criminal proceedings where sometimes a single word could be problematic.
He added that the question of amenities in the court also has to be addressed.
Bond called the bill a small step by government in the right direction but lamented that only a “skeleton bill” was presented before the House, as there are several outstanding issues. Among these, he said, were the protection of the integrity of the record, a definite timeframe for the availability of the records and whether it would mean that judges no longer have to take notes.
Education Minister Priya Manickchand, who is also an attorney, said the bill would change the administration and delivery of justice.
She, too, noted the many complaints of appeals being delayed in both the Full Court and the Court of Appeal, judgments being kept back because of the delay in the availability of records and the inconveniences that people suffer because of “our inability presently to record in an efficient and speedy manner the record of the court. This bill seeks to change that.”
She was hopeful of the system being extended to the magistrate’s courts and she said that the new law would bring to ordinary citizens and the judiciary the kind of efficiency and speed that a “2014 Guyana” deserves.
AFC MP Moses Nagamootoo, who touched on the difficulties associated with having to read judges’ notes, also welcomed the step.
However, he stated that there are certain areas that have to be looked at, including ensuring a dedicated power supply to the courts to ensure that there are no disruptions during recording.
He also called for a review of the arrangements in place as it relates to journalists accessing proceedings and being allowed to take photographs and videos at the courts.
The bill provides for the Registrar of the Supreme Court or the clerk of the magistrate’s court to cause a transcript of the record of the proceedings to be prepared.
Clause 5 states that the record of proceedings shall be verified by certificates of those responsible for the accuracy of the recording of the proceedings, while Clause 6 provides for access to the transcript and recordings by a party to the proceedings upon payment of the requisite fee.