Time ripe for analysis of prosecution success/failure rate, says AG

Attorney-General (AG) Anil Nandalall said that maybe the time “is now ripe” for an analysis to be done of the prosecution success/failure rate in the magistrates courts.

The new AG said he is not aware that any analysis has been done to determine the failure or success rate of prosecution in the lower courts.

Nandalall was at the time responding to a question from Stabroek News in relation to a Justice Sector Reform Strategy 2006–2010 report which said that an estimated “90% of criminal prosecutions in the Magistrates Courts are unsuccessful.”

“I am not aware about that and I don’t know that that statistics [are] accurate… but maybe the time is now right for such an analysis to be done,” he said.

This reference to the Justice Sector Reform Strategy was included in a recent United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Citizens Security Survey undertaken in seven countries in the Caribbean, including Guyana.

Meanwhile, well-known attorney-at-law Nigel Hughes when contacted said that the 90% failure rate is a “gross exaggeration” even as he decried the lack of data on the subject.

Hughes said that while he does not have any figures he does not believe that the success rate in prosecutions in the magistrates courts is so low, pointing out that many persons plead guilty and are sentenced, and persons are also found guilty. He admitted that while his work is mainly done in the courts in Georgetown and not around the country he still thought the figure was too high.

The lack of data is something that should be addressed, Hughes said, and he called upon the offices of the AG, Chancellor and the Chief Magistrate to publish annual data so that the progress of the justice system could be determined. He said it is necessary for the criminal justice system to have impeccable data from which analysis can be done.

The UNDP survey addressing the criminal justice system in the Caribbean had warned that  processing evidence backlogs will become even more resonant as Caribbean nations grow increasingly reliant on forensic evidence to close cases.

It pointed out that the United States is currently dealing with massive backlogs in DNA evidence.

“While DNA is a wonderful tool for identifying and convicting offenders, processing DNA evidence is expensive and resource-intensive and is likely to worsen case processing delays and backlogs,” the report warned.

It noted that backlogs are, however, not merely a matter of efficiency as they go directly to the question of whether defendants are being treated justly.

“Consider Guyana, which reports that, in 2010, nearly 41 per cent of its prisoners had not yet been tried or convicted on the current charges for which they were being detained,” the survey said.

It said that for defendants who are not guilty, backlogs might mean spending a lot of time in jail for offences they did not commit.

However, the survey said, even attempts to address these concerns highlight the crippling extent of the problem. Guyana again was used as an example where it reduced to some extent its backlog in the civil court under a special project whereby part-time judges were appointed to adjudicate cases and help eliminate the backlog. To eliminate the backlog in criminal cases, a similar strategy was proposed in the Guyana Justice Sector Reform Strategy of 2006–2010. However, even with this programme in place, the shortage of judges made it virtually impossible to reduce the civil litigation backlog.

“Estimates suggest that, even if two judges were assigned and even if each one concluded one civil matter every working day of the year (249 days), this would only lead to the completion of 498 cases out of an average of 5,600 cases filed, thus leaving a backlog of 5,102 cases,” said the report.

No silver-bullet solutions have emerged in the Caribbean for case processing delays and backlogs. As more of these nations begin using sophisticated forensic evidence processing techniques (such as ballistics imaging and DNA profiling), it is likely that the delays will actually worsen, the survey said.

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