Latest update March 23rd, 2023 12:59 AM
Jun 15, 2010 Features / Columnists, Peeping Tom
The new Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, Kamla Persad- Bissessar, was quoted as saying that the criminal justice system was over-burdened, overwhelmed and under-resourced.
She was speaking about her country, but her assessment could have well been applied to Guyana where there have for long been complaints about sloth, delays and backlogs within the Courts.
The June Assizes of the High Court recently commenced. A number of cases are among those listed to be heard by a panel of judges. But just how many of those cases will end up being heard? It would clearly be impossible for all the listed cases to be heard and therefore some of the persons listed for trial and hoping that their cases would be disposed in the June sessions are going to be disappointed. A great many others will be frustrated that their cases were not be listed. They will remain behind bars until this happens and this could be years in the future.
Backlog of cases is an ongoing problem in Guyana. If justice is to be judged by the adage: justice delayed is justice denied, then the state of justice administration in Guyana can be said to be in a crisis. Delays are not just limited to criminal matters. There are also lengthy backlog of civil matters.
These delays will unavoidably contribute to a continuing reduction in confidence in the system. It will also be a disincentive of persons wishing to do business in this country since they will be fearful that commercial disputes will not be resolved in a timely manner. But delays, backlogs and sloth will also cause public frustration and force people to seek to settle their differences in a manner that is neither lawful nor peaceful and this is not good for the country.
For these reasons, the problems within the judiciary need to be fixed today not tomorrow.
The government cannot be said to be unaware or accused of being unresponsive to the problem. It has tried and continues to endeavour to deal with the problem. But it seems that its efforts are not yielding the results that would quickly restore greater efficiency and confidence in the justice system.
Various things are being tried. A law has been passed stipulating the time frame within which judges must submit their written decisions. The effectiveness of this legislation will take some time to be assessed. Alternative sentencing has been implemented but this will not reduce the workload of judges, just the overcrowding of our prisons. Mediation is not having the desired effect. Other policies such as freeing judges of the time-consuming task of taking notes during trials, are taking too long to be implemented. It is time to try something different.
One top official of the government feels that the problem may be the work ethic of judges. But if you examine the workload of our judges, and the resources which they have at their disposal, a stronger case can be made out that perhaps our judges are being asked to do too much with too little resources. They need more staff, better working conditions and definitely more pay. Also they each need to have a shorter number of cases to try each assizes.
This brings us right back to the list of criminal cases scheduled for hearing in this month’s assizes. A great many of these criminal cases are murder, manslaughter and rape. There is a need for more judges to try these criminal cases. The number of assigned judges is far too small for even the list cases, much less if that list is to be extended to cater for the many persons awaiting trial.
There is a solution to the problem, an easy solution. By simply recruiting ten foreign judges and limiting these judges to the adjudication of criminal cases dealing with murder, manslaughter and rape, a dent can be made into the backlog of criminal cases in the High Court.
In fact, with ten more judges, all the cases listed for hearing can be easily disposed of in the present session. The additional judges can be recruited. All it will take is a request to the Commonwealth for the immediate hiring of ten retired judges.
These judges will not be competing for positions within the local judiciary and therefore will pose no threat to the upward mobility of local judges. The local jurists should have no fears about being superseded since the persons recruited will be retired judges. They will not be permanent members of the Bench. They are simply coming to administer justice in criminal cases in the High Courts. Since they will be limited to hearing only criminal cases, fears of foreign judges pronouncing on local civil can be laid to rest.
Guyanese will bear up with the traffic jams and inconveniences that result whenever there is the ceremonial parade signaling the opening of a new assizes. This is an important tradition that helps to reinforce respect for the authority of the Courts and the rule of law.
Ultimately, however, no number of parades will reverse the loss of confidence in the justice system occasioned by sloth, delays and backlogs.
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