Jan 04, 2012 News
Prominent member of the Children’s Legal Aid and Attorney-at-Law, Jaya Manickchand, believes that effective communication among ranks of the Guyana Police Force and Social Service workers could be the catalyst for the reduction of juvenile matters brought before the courts.
The Legal Aid official voiced these sentiments during a recent interview with this publication. She outlined the adherence of a policy of procedures when dealing with juveniles.
Manickchand further stated that social services should intervene before a charge is instituted against a child for certain offences she deemed as petty, to determine if the child is criminal-minded and should be removed from the environment.
Manickchand cited instances where children are committed to the New Opportunity Corps for wandering and other simple offences, while suggesting that these children may have social issues necessitating interventions of Legal Aid.
The Children’s Legal Aid, funded by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), has been providing free legal representation to children up to 18 years old, across Guyana, and within the past four years, has expanded its mandate to referral of clients to appropriate agencies.
“We allow anybody to come in once it relates to children and advises on other referral agencies,” Manickchand explained. She added that Legal Aid sometimes seeks the intervention of the Police Commissioner or the Director of Public Prosecutions to ensure that matters of this nature receive adequate attention.
The agency’s clients include unrepresented youths, and once the body is satisfied with the court’s guidance, the Attorney-at-Law present represents the alleged offender as a friend of the court.
“We are not in the business of lying for children to get them off. The Courts have been very understanding, co-operative and sympathetic when dealing with children. If there are minor offences we ask the court in terms of sentencing to consider they are children who made mistakes. Most times the courts elect to order non-custodial sentences, while magistrates may use their discretion and mete out non-custodial sentencing ordering counseling as an alternative.”
Manickchand admits to the slothfulness of the judicial system but blames this on the resignation of some magistrates resulting in a new magistrate taking over the case. In some cases, the matter may restart when that client reaches the age of 19 years, which precludes the Children’s Legal Aid from providing legal representation. That person is now required to seek legal representation from private practitioners or from the Guyana Legal Aid Clinic.
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