Justices of the Peace should witness prisoners’ statements
President of the Justices of the Peace Association and Commissioner of Oaths Association, Hermon Bholaisingh, yesterday said that he is ready to fight for the passage of the Lay Magistrates’ Act and for Justices of the Peace (JPs) and Commissioners of Oaths (COA’s) to become more active in society.
This announcement was made at the Association’s statutory meeting, which was held yesterday at the Georgetown Magistrates’ Court.
Mr. Bholaisingh said that he intends to fight for lay magistrates, community-based mediation and People’s Court, for which legislation is already in place.
The JPs also cited the importance of establishing a viable link with the police, in order to play a role in settling disputes before they get to the court system.
They also contend that JPs should witness when accused in indictable matters give statements to the police, to eliminate the possibility of the claim that the statement was taken under duress.
According to the JPs, this should be happening countrywide, and there should be legislation in place making this compulsory.
A few weeks ago, the JP Association began asking for the Lay Magistrates’ Bill to become an Act.
Subsequent to that, Justice Desiree Bernard of the Caribbean Court of Justice chaired one of the Association’s meetings and noted the importance of lay magistrates for Guyana, and urged the members of the Association to continue fighting for it.
According to her, lay magistrates could play a crucial role in eliminating the backlog in outlying areas.
However, there are some who are of the opinion that lay magistrates are not necessary. Among the dissenters is Chairman of the Alliance For Change, attorney-at-law Khemraj Ramjattan, who is contending that Guyana does not need lay magistrates but trained lawyers who need to be appointed to fill the vacant positions in the magistracy and judiciary.
“We have so many lawyers that there is no need for lay magistrates. That would have been the case if there was a shortage of trained persons.”
According to him, the legal profession is packed to capacity with qualified lawyers, many of whom are quite up to the task of performing magisterial functions.
Ramjattan added that the University has been churning out some 25 lawyers per year for more than 15 years now.
He noted that good justice can be dispensed by non-lawyers, but lawyers would be more suitable since they are trained in the area of law and administration of justice.
According to Ramjattan, the Government must spend money on the provision of more magistrates’ courts and more magistrates to deal with the task at hand.
The idea behind lay magistrates is to relieve congestion in the courts by providing additional personnel to hear cases of a limited jurisdiction.
With the Bill, a person is qualified if he/she is a fit and proper person with at least seven years’ experience in a senior position in a public or private sector field of activity.
Each court will have a clerk, who at the time of appointment must have a Bachelor of Laws degree from any Commonwealth country, or any equivalent qualification, or who in the opinion of the Chancellor is a fit and proper person to be employed as a clerk.
The scheme of the Bill is that the clerk, when required by the magistrate, will give advice within his competence about the law, practice or procedure, on questions arising in connection with the discharge of his function.
The lay magistrates’ criminal jurisdiction will cover offences, the punishment for which does not exceed a fine of $15,000. Such offences may include a number of minor offences, such as indecent language, disorderly behaviour, minor traffic matters, public health offences, cruelty to animals and other offences that attract small fines.