By: Feona Morrison
The timeliness of hearings and determination of cases remains a sore issue for Guyana’s Magistrates’ courts. And the failure to effectively deal with this brings the accountability of the said courts into question.
This is according to the most recent annual report on the Supreme Court of Judicature.
The report, in no uncertain terms, makes it pellucid that the court system must demonstrate a sense of accountability at all times. It said that accountability does not only apply to ensuring that public resources are used properly but to ensure that cases are heard and judgments given in an expeditious manner.
Failure to ensure accountability with regard to the latter context has left the Magisterial court system clogged up with over 10, 000 matters.
According to the annual report, a whopping total of 19, 210 criminal matters were pending at the end of 2015, for seven Magisterial Districts.
A total of 35, 771 criminal matters were filed for the same Magisterial Districts in 2015.
In the Georgetown Magisterial District, 19, 581 criminal matters were filed; 15, 718 were disposed of for the said court. The West Demerara Magisterial District had 6, 472 criminal matters filed last year. According to the report, 6, 319 cases were disposed of.
For the Berbice Magisterial District, the report said that 3455 criminal matters were filed. Interestingly, it showed that no matters were pending in this district for that year.
The West Berbice Magisterial District had 2143 criminal matters filed.
In the Corentyne Magisterial District there were a total of 4120 matters filed for this same year. Sixty five matters remained pending in this district at the end of 2015.
The report outlined that 4325 matters were disposed in the East Demerara Magisterial Districts while 3685 were disposed in the Essequibo Magisterial District for 2015.
Among these two Magisterial Districts, a total of 4691 matters were pending at the end of 2015.
The report stated that there are eight Magisterial Districts which for administrative purposes are managed through six Head Offices.
These are; The Georgetown Magisterial District with Head Office at Georgetown; The East Demerara Magisterial District with Head Office at Vigilance; The West Demerara Magisterial District with Head Office at Vreed-en-Hoop; The Berbice Magisterial District with Head Office at New Amsterdam; The Corentyne Magisterial District with Head Office at Whim; The Essequibo Magisterial District with Head Office at Suddie; The North West Magisterial District which is administered by Georgetown and Essequibo; The Rupununi Magisterial managed by Georgetown and the West Demerara Magisterial District with Head Office at Fort Wellington.
According to the report, the Magistrates’ Courts have jurisdiction for civil and criminal matters. In its civil jurisdiction, Magistrates adjudicate in petty debt claims for the recovery of any debt or damages where the amount claim does not exceed $50, 000, claims for rent owed and possession of premises. The Magistrates’ Courts also have jurisdiction to hear applications for rent.
It said that the Magistrates’ Courts in its criminal jurisdiction hear and determine complaints in respect to summary conviction offences and indictable offences which are tried summarily by virtue of the provisions of the Summary Jurisdiction (Procedure Act, Cap 10:02) as amended by the Administration of Justice Act, 1978.
The report explained that Magistrates preside over Preliminary Inquiries (PI) into indictable offences and sit in their statutory capacity as Coroners to held inquest into deaths which occur under suspicious circumstances and also sit as members of Liquor, Licensing Boards and Cinematography Boards.
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