Voice Recognition Sys-tems are being procured to unburden judges of having to manually record evidence in the Commercial Court, the Appeals Court and the Chief Justice’s Court, Attorney General Anil Nandlall announced yesterday, while declaring the Modernisation of the Justice Administration System (MJAS) project, under which the initiative falls, a success.
The six-year-old MJAS concluded yesterday at the Duke Lodge with an exit workshop for members of the legal fraternity and security services, including representatives of the judiciary and the police and prison services.
Junior Finance Minister Juan Edghill said that under the project more than $1.5 billion had been spent to reform and update laws, institutionalise the justice system, refurbish and extend courts, while providing overall improved accountability and administrative efficiency and enhanced linkages and co-ordination within the justice sector.
The key objective of the workshop was to enable key stakeholders to gain an understanding of the execution of the MJAS, the key lessons learnt and the next steps that are required to sustain and continue the modernisation of the justice sector as well as to provide a forum for stakeholders to further clarify any aspects of the project, its output and other concerns.
Afterward, Nandlall told Stabroek News that the workshop was successfully completed, while adding that in recognition of the fact that the project was a mere foundation “the stakeholders have committed themselves to take the development drive to another level in the creation of a more efficient and effective justice system.”
Addressing the opening session of the workshop, Nandlall identified the implementation of Voice Recognition Systems as one of the highlights of project. “These are in the process of being procured for installation and will take the burden of manual recording from the judges thus enhancing the integrity of these important court records,” he explained.
The Revised Laws of Guyana from 1977 to 2010, the updated Law Reports that reflect the judicial decisions from the Court of Appeals for 1977 to 2007, as well as the paper records from the years 1930 to 1976, which have been digitised and are now available to all online, were also identified as signature achievements due to the project. “Access to justice has had a tremendous fillip from the increased availability of the updated laws and law reports and this benefit is immediately felt by the man in the street, members of the legal fraternity as well as students of law,” Nandlall said.
Other reforms and improvements he highlighted included the amendment of civil and criminal procedural laws, and the drafting of new laws, including the Juve-nile Offenders Act; the Criminal Law (Offences) and Criminal Law (Proce-dure) Acts; the Contempt of Court Act; Alternative Resolution Act; and the Legal Practitioners’ Act. He said that new High Court Rules were drafted in the early years of the project and these have all been enacted since 2010.
Training, he noted too, was central under the project for judges, prosecutors, and administrative staff as well as the external stakeholders, such as the 135 members of the hinterland communities who have been trained in paralegal methodologies.
According to Nandlall, there was also improvement plans for modernising the structure and administrative processes of both Ministry of Legal Affairs and the Chambers of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), which they have started implementing. The ministry and the DPP’s chambers, he added, have moved into 21st century with a Public Trustee Management Information System in Ministry of Legal Affairs and a Prosecutors Manage-ment Information System, respectively. “These systems have changed the way we do things, and while new are somewhat challenging and we have only just begun. Our day-to-day functioning is shifting to new levels of performance and accountability,” he said.
He also said that for the first time the justice sector now has a monitoring and evaluation (M&E) framework that is managed by a small M&E Unit in Ministry of Legal of Legal Affairs. “We have had several user-surveys since this development was put in place and it has allowed policy makers to garner important insights into the perceptions of the end-users of the justice system,” he said, while adding that this is a tool that will allow them to have a continuous pulse on the function of the sector as seen by valuable stakeholders.
In hindsight, Nandlall said, the project was a very complex one with multiple new engagements and unfamiliar dialogue, and the shift to administrative reform was a quantum leap for many.
Initially, the Technical Secretariat struggled in many instances in tracking the progress of the multiple and varied contracts as they tried to execute these responsibilities, he said. “The change has commenced. The challenge is for us as policy and decision makers is to harness the momentum, continue the change and swiftly put in place the actions that are needed to sustain the very laudable efforts of this first round of justice sector reform,” he added.
The right track
Justice Claudette Singh, the MJAS project coordinator, noted that with the implementation of the project, the country’s judicial system has been put on the right track.
She said that many long standing challenges were addressed during the project, including the backlog of cases, the renovation of the DPP’s chambers of the Director of Public Prose-cution (DPP) and the installation of 15 offices for prosecutors, and the refurbishing of the Georgetown Magistrates’ Court and installation.
Singh also noted that a renovated building at Main and King streets, New Amsterdam, Berbice, will now house the DPP’s Berbice office, where a prosecutor will be based. This, she said, will result in persons no longer having to travel to the city to file bail applications and other urgent applications.
She said that there is now a crime management system at the High Court, where information from court files will be stored so “gone are the days when files are misplaced or when they disappear in the Registry.”
She also noted that the law libraries have been refurbished and boosted with updated legal material.
Mark Wenner, a country economist for the IDB, which provided loans for the project, noted that the rationale behind the project was to improve the enforcement of rights and the rule of law in order to better serve the citizens of Guyana and to attract foreign investment. He said that it has succeeded in generating positive momentum and achievements. While observing of the length of time it took to complete the project, he noted that implementing judicial reform “is extremely complex. It is tough and daunting because involves many different governmental institutions and it touches …on complex subject matters.”
Wenner said that while there is still much more to done, the IDB is confident that the government will continue on the path of continued reform improvement in order to build a better society for all Guyanese.