Continuous judicial education is needed to ensure that the competence of the judiciary is maintained and that the public receives the highest standard of service, acting Chief Justice Yonette Cummings-Edwards said on Thursday, moments before launching the Justice Education Institute–Guyana (JEI).
During the launching ceremony at the Library Building located in the High Court compound, it was explained that the JEI will provide continuing legal education for all Judges, Magistrates, Commissioners of Title, Registrars, Court administrators, Clerks of court, Judicial officers and Court of Appeal staff.
Justice Cummings-Edwards said that the unique nature of judicial work and court administration requires specialised training and skills and as such the JEI training will “tailor our needs to that end and strengthen institutional capacity as well as judicial services”.
She said an independent and competent judiciary is essential for the upholding of the rule of law and the administration of justice. The protection of the rights of citizens, she stressed, depends on this. “The willingness of the judiciary itself in ensuring that its members are knowledgeable and skilled in various areas of the law and that judges are trained in the application of legal principles and the art of judging to carry out their responsibilities to the public, that in my mind encapsulates a Judicial Education Institute”, she said, adding that in order for judicial competence to be reinforced, education and training programmes are a necessity.
Justice Cummings-Edwards explained that the institute has a management team which is chaired by her. The team she said is tasked with developing comprehensive strategies for judicial education. The team, she noted, will also develop a curriculum that is demand driven and suited to the needs of the judicial officials being targeted.
Noting that judicial education is not new to Guyana, she said that she and many other judges and magistrates have benefited from training programmes both locally and abroad.
She said that very early in her career as a judge, she was sent to London to the Judicial Studies Board at the University of Warwick by Chancellor of the Judiciary, Justice Carl Singh. She said that she was also invited by the Justice Education Institute of Trinidad to take part in their annual Judges Conference and retreat.
Justice Cummings-Edwards stressed that despite the training opportunities, what was missing was the formal structure through which these programmes could be administered. She added that even though no physical structure exists presently, there are trained judicial educators who are willing to take up the challenge of continuing judicial education in a formalised and systematic way. She said that most of the sitting judges and magistrates have been trained at the Commonwealth Judicial Education Institute located in Canada and those who have not will be accommodated once funding is available.
She explained that this Canadian institution runs an intensive programme for judicial educators in broad areas of substantive and procedural law, the role of judge and judge craft and of judicial ethics.
Later, she expressed hope that the Guyana Bar Association will develop an accredited, continuing legal education for its members. A JEI, she said, will support that critical need and “we at this side of the judiciary are willing to lend whatever support we can to the Bar Association and its members and to form a Bench and Bar committee or collaborative effort in that regard”.
She said that there is a need for the judiciary to be equipped to continue to meet the demands of society in a timely and efficient manner so that the delivery of justice on a whole will be what it ought to be. People’s lives on a daily basis, she said, depend on what is done by judges and magistrates and therefore they ought not to take their roles for granted.
According to her, training needs in both the judiciary and the magistracy have also been identified and training programmes, seminars and retreats are being organised.
Come January, work on the new civil procedure rules will intensify. “It’s a new dispensation …in relation to civil procedure and we hope to partner with the Caribbean Court of Justice, the Jurist Project, and the University of the West Indies to have training done for members of the profession in relation to the new civil procedure rules”, she noted.
Meanwhile, Justice Singh said that it’s the expectation that in the court, the public will be provided with “a service of exceptional quality and that quality of service is possible when our efforts are touched by our research, and education on the issues with which we are treating”.
He said that educational programmes are essential to any profession but it is important to state that “whatever success this Judicial Educational Institute will achieve will undoubtedly depend on the attitude of those to whom it will cater”. He said that Judges, Magistrates and Lawyers must demonstrate an interest in the curriculum and activities of the institute as well as an understanding and appreciation of the indisputable personal benefits that will be derived from involvement and participation in the programmes organised.
He stressed that the court system holds an important place in the democratic structure of the country. “The people of Guyana who find themselves before the courts expect that the lawyers chosen to represent them will be well prepared and studied on the facts and the law relating to their case and of our judges and magistrates, they expect knowledgeable well educated and efficient judges’, he said.