Breach of constitutional rights
I write with respect to our administration of justice, and unfortunately, the system is just drowning day after day. I will write on this aspect later.
However, I will, in this letter, address what I perceive to be a breach of the constitutional rights of some accused persons appearing in the Magistrates Courts, and this relates to the length of time that is fixed between hearings.
Article 144 (1) of the Constitution of the Co-Operative Republic of Guyana states — “If any person is charged with a criminal offence, then unless the charge is withdrawn, the case shall be afforded a fair hearing within a reasonable time by an independent and impartial court established by law”.
What is requisite is that the charge and/or trial should be heard within a REASONABLE TIME. The question that will arise is what is reasonable? A court looking at this question would have to look at all the circumstances and determine objectively whether any breach has occurred. The question of justice to the State and an accused person will have to be examined.
I have noted for some time now, by newspaper reports and in some of the cases that I have been and/or am involved in, that there is one magistrate in the Georgetown Magisterial District, who also sits one day in a country court; that several cases of persons who cannot find bail are adjourned to periods of up to three months or more. Recently, in late November, two women appeared before this magistrate charged with the offence of trafficking in narcotics. They both pleaded not guilty, and their cases were adjourned to the 6th April, 2009. They were both remanded to prison, and there is no likelihood that their cases will commence on the adjourned date; but for sure it will not be concluded unless they plead guilty.
There is no doubt in my mind that these prolonged adjournments of persons incarcerated are a breach of their constitutional right to have a trial within a reasonable time. Let it be clear that I am not questioning the credibility and/or competence of the learned magistrate, as I am certain that she is unaware and/or does not believe that she is breaching the constitutional rights of persons appearing before her.
The question to be asked is: why are there these long postponements? And with this, the unduly long time for a matter to be concluded will surely follow. Is it that the magistrate has too much on her plate? I do believe that the magistrate feels that she has too many matters to deal with and cannot do better. But that is not good enough, as the situation has to be remedied, and the Chancellor and the Minister of Justice have to step in.
The Chancellor of the Judiciary, Mr. Carl Singh (ag), is the person who is in charge of the administration and supervision of our magistrates. It is his duty to see that the magistrates function efficiently and there is no breach of anyone’s constitutional rights by any officer under his control. I recall that, when I was on the bench, magistrates had to submit regularly a list of cases that they had concluded, how many part heard cases were pending, how many other cases that were pending, and other information. I hope that this is still in place; and if it is, then the Chancellor needs to examine the lists more closely, and if they are not being submitted, to ensure that they are and/or put back in place the need to submit the above-mentioned information.
I would wish also to mention here something different from the above. Some weeks ago, it was reported in the press that Justice Patterson had to hear a matter in the corridor of the Supreme Court, as there was a blackout and the generator that was installed in the Supreme Court compound was not working. This was most unfortunate to learn that the generator was not working. I checked, and it seemed that after the generator was installed, several other appliances, including many air-conditioners, were added to the system. These were not catered and/or planned for, as if they were, a larger generator should have been installed. However, the reason for the non-functioning of the generator was that there was poor maintenance of the generator. The supplier of the generator had written several times indicating that there was the essential need to have the maintenance agreement extended. The charge for this service was $11,000 per month. The maintenance agreement was not extended, and a contract was given to someone else. The result is that the generator is out of use, and a judge had to use the corridor to get some work done. We are all the losers.
K. A. Juman-Yassin