Concern about lack of ‘visible improvement’ in judicial system

New regulations to strengthen accountability in the judicial system are under review as the ongoing justice administration modernisation continues, but there is concern about the lack of “visible improvement” in the sector.

Charles Ramson
Charles Ramson

According to newly-appointed Attorney General Charles Ramson SC., the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) had considered judicial rules and regulations, which have since been referred to acting Chancellor Carl Singh for his consideration before transmission to the next level. The new code is expected to include the establishment of sanction provisions, mechanisms for filing of complaints, and timeliness guidelines. Ramson, who gave an update on the US$25M Modernisa-tion of the Justice Admin-istration System programme during his presentation to the National Assembly on Wednesday evening, also said new civil procedure rules have been drafted and are in the process of being sent to Guyana Bar Association (GBA) for comment. Prior to his appointment to the Ministry, he was part of the committee that helped draft the rules, which are intended to reduce the length of time from filing to hearing of a case.

Clarissa Riehl
Clarissa Riehl

He said that he is also expected to receive a status report on the development of an action plan for reorganisation of the Chambers of the Director of Public Prosecu-tions, for which the consultancy began the previous week, while his own ministry had completed the same day a consultancy on the financial management of the Charles Ramsonjudiciary. He added that the only area that is a cause for concern is a framework not adequately addressed by a local consultancy firm, which he said would be revisited.

Ramson, who resumed the position upon the retirement of former AG Doodnauth Singh SC from practice, opined that a lot of work had been done. He cited the automation of the records of the Guyana Deeds Registry. He stated that the names of 15,600 businesses and companies have been automated, in order to ensure a reduction of time for commercial transactions by a third or less than what currently obtains. Additionally, he revealed that a link is being developed between the Registry and the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA), to aid revenue collection.

He assured the House that barring unforeseen developments outside of his competence, a further progress report would be made.

PNCR-1G MP Clarissa Riehl, however, in her presentation yesterday noted that almost two years into the reform programme, there are no visible signs of improvement in the sector, which is still plagued by, among other things, judicial vacancies, a backlog of cases and a high number of remanded prisoners.

In her presentation on the debate, Riehl noted that there continue to be vacancies in the High Court and the Court of Appeal, although the Judicial Service Commission made recommendations since April last year to fill them. She said the courts “limp along” without a full complement for any reason other than the apparent cavalier attitude of the executive towards the judiciary. According to her, there are 900 lawyers currently on roll, including 19 senior counsel and 50 lawyers, each with more than 20 years experience at the bar.

Riehl argued that the judicial vacancies contributed to the backlog of cases. She also expressed concern about prisoners on remand, noting Home Affairs Ministry statistics indicated that there were 832 prisoners at the Georgetown Prison awaiting trial in the courts, including some who have not had their cases heard in almost four years. The figure accounted for 36% of the overall prison population and included 752 prisoners awaiting trials, and another 103 are convicted prisoners waiting to be tried in the High Court. Among the reasons for the situation, she said, is that magistrates do not use their discretion enough, while the police eagerly make applications for remand.
Noting the widespread perception of corruption in Guyana, Riehl also drew attention to a $13 million allocation in the budget for support staff in the Office of the Ombudsman, although no one has been appointed to fill the substantive post for almost five years. According to the Constitution, the Ombudsman may investigate any action taken by any government department or by the President and Ministers. Riehl added that while the last holder of the office, S.Y Mohamed, submitted regular reports, he had indicated that his office was largely ignored by the administration and that he lacked the investigators and legal advisers the office required. Riehl said while the continuing allocations for the support staff indicated that the government does not want to do away with the office, the failure to appoint anyone to the post could be regarded as a negation of the rights of the citizens.

Meanwhile, Riehl also alerted the Assembly to the predicament facing a city Magistrate who is presiding over the first case in which there has been an application for a paper committal. Last October,  the National Assembly passed a bill to vest magistrates with the power to commit accused persons to trial in the High Court if a prima facie case is made out based on written instead of oral evidence. According to Riehl, the new law is causing serious problems because it is not specific enough to guide the Magistrate and there are no attendant regulations for its operation. In this regard, she reminded that the opposition has been continually urging regulations for new laws even as the government insists on rushing legislation through the House.

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