Tony Vieira's Comments
18 October 2017

Updates!

Receive email notices when a commentary is uploaded. Join our mailing list.

E-Mail Address:

View Article

Judicial system
(Aired 30 November 2001)

   In a previous commentary I pointed out that nearly half of our citizens do not trust our judicial system.

    Prompted by the response to that comment, I decided to look into our judicial system since it is the single most important institution that protects the rights of our citizens from unjust practices and actions.

    In March 2000 two British judges Mr. John Barker and Mr. Esyr Lewis were engaged by the Commonwealth Office of the United Kingdom to do three things.

   One; to assist in drawing up revised rules for the administration of the courts of justice

   Two: to draw up a training manual and lay down standards for all legal personnel engaged in the administration of justice and

   Three: to assist as appropriate in reducing the backlog of civil cases.

   They submitted their findings on the 10th July 2000.

   They met with and spoke to the Chancellor, the Chief justice, most of our Judges and Magistrates, the head of the bar association, funnily enough ladies and gentlemen they only spoke to the deputy Director of Public Prosecutions and the Deputy Commissioner of police, clearly the Commissioner of Police and the DPP did not think that this exercise was important enough to warrant their valuable time.

   Baker and Lewis found that our fine Victorian law courts building was an architectural masterpiece, but it is now and I quote "well below the standard one would expect to find in a major public building in any capital city and do not provide the tranquil atmosphere and accommodation which we think is appropriate for the conduct of judicial business"

   They also found that there were no recording equipment in ANY of our courts and our judges have to make full handwritten notes of the evidence both in civil and criminal cases. Why? Asked the two British jurists do our poor judges have to write down every word, given as evidence before them, in long hand since, this, in their opinion, can only slow the judicial process? I'll tell you why we can't record anything in our courts your honors Baker and Lewis; you would not hear a thing. The ambient noise in our courts is appalling, I recently had to spend some time in our courts, I could not understand ONE word the judge OR my lawyer was saying. There was a deaf man there reading their lips and telling me what was going on.

    How are our courts administered? This is the administrative staff ladies and gentlemen, we have not gotten to our judges, magistrates or our lawyers as yet, well it turns out that the administrative staff in our legal system are so badly paid, that only poorly educated persons want the job, their honors were informed that rather than being fully literate, competent and reliable which is essential for the proper dispensation of justice, our court staff fared miserably in a recent proficiency test and only an alarmingly small number of them passed it.

   Needless to say there was evidence of lost and misplaced files which were in the interest of the defendants and not the plaintiffs. Their honors could not corroborate claims that these files were deliberately misplaced. They however do point out, that low levels of pay can make the court's employees susceptible to corruption! Ladies and gentlemen I was AS shocked to hear this as you are. Corruption in our courts? Judges decisions being passed down before the judge gives his decision in court, one was even passed down without the knowledge of the Judge!!!

    Some time ago we were informed that in this country a case can take 10 years to be determined, that with a population of 750 thousand citizens there were nearly 200 thousand cases waiting to be heard.

    Let's see what their honors found, we have nine pusine or high court judges in addition to our chief justice, a total of ten judges, the statutory number is supposed to be 12 including the CJ, in 1999 there were a total of seven 7,644 cases for these 10 judges, that's 760 for each judge a year, some cases date from as far back as 1990, it was disclosed that in Trinidad and Jamaica where there is less backlog and therefore less cases per year there were 24 and 28 judges respectively. Of the 7604 cases set to be heard in 1998 only 5948 were determined. So the determination of cases not heard are cumulative and will NEVER be resolved with 10 judges.

   We are giving our Judges, already poorly paid, an impossible task and it will affect the way justice is dispensed, not only the speed at which the cases are determined but the quality of the judgements. Now ladies and gentlemen I am not saying that we have great judges whose ONLY agenda is to dispense JUSTICE, I am not competent to determine that, but I am saying that even if we did have great judges they would not be able to function effectively to dispense justice in such a system.

   In our Court of Appeal the situation is no different, we are supposed to have 6 appellate judges, we have 3 and the chancellor, a total of 4 because of the backlog there should be enough appeal court judges, so that they can form two groups to deal with the backlog, since an appeal must be heard by three appellate court justices.

    I will not go into the actual functioning of the court system by our judges in any great depth as uncovered by Lewis and Baker, I will leave that to those who will probably expand on this comment, but let me make a few important observations from their report, our judges are too easily disposed to grant adjournments requested by our lawyers, this interrupts the proceedings which the British judges found to be disruptive by not being continuous, they have observed that the rule should be, that a hearing once started should not be interrupted without very good reason,    

   In Guyana the rule seems to be to disrupt as much as possible and when everyone gets fed up of running to the courts the matter fizzles out, the lawyers have however collected their fees; they are the only ones that WIN these cases.

    Ladies and gentlemen in this report the indications are that the judicial system maybe in the process of being actively manipulated by some unscrupulous lawyers, and weak judges who are allowing them to make too many excuses for not getting our cases determined in the quickest possible time. The Guyana Lawyers have come in for heavy fire in this report ladies and gentlemen, more so than our judges have.

    In fact after reading this report I feel the need to send a sympathy card to all of our judges. They work in the most atrocious conditions, they have to write everything they hear in long hand, they have to listen to one thousand excuses every day about why this lawyer or that lawyer cannot get his client's matter dealt with expeditiously, why this witness or that witness is not available, they have to put up with the noise, the heat, the oppressive atmosphere of our courts and they each have to hear over 760 cases per year, so of necessity they have to deal with 4-6 matters simultaneously, how can there possibly be justice when the facts in MY case is mixed up in the judges head with the facts of john Doe's case. 

   Apparently also ladies and gentlemen in British jurisprudence you cannot simply graduate from law school and immediately become attorneys at law and go into practice, you are required to join the staff of a recognised firm or lawyer to gain experience, a process called pupilage, also in this country there is no differentiation between barrister and solicitor. All lawyers are all things. Just as there are no specialist judges our judges are "Maids of all works" their honors have made it plain and I quote "that appropriate rules should be made so that attorneys can be left with no doubt about the duties owed by them to both the court and to their clients, and that for the proper administration of justice the judges of the supreme court should have an express power to report misconduct or gross incompetence by a lawyer to a disciplinary body however rarely experience may have shown that this was necessary" this is especially desirable when new lawyers are allowed to practice their trade on an unsuspecting public, immediately on graduation.

    Our chief magistrate told the British judges that the magistrate's court is handling about 90% of their workload, Baker and Lewis however determined that the statistics presented to them does not support that contention. Imagine ladies and gentlemen our Chief Magistrate embarrassing us in this manner. Presenting information which was not accurate or which cannot be substantiated by the facts.

   Far too many persons are languishing in our prisons for up to 4 years waiting for their cases to be heard. Apparently ladies and gentlemen we have put stricter measures in our prison on Camp street to prevent prisoners from climbing on the roof demanding justice and a trial but we have not addressed their condition, too many prisoners are in Jail awaiting trial, some of these people are innocent, some are not, but if even one prisoner is locked up for 4 years awaiting trial and he is innocent, it is a serious indictment of our system of justice. Which has apparently completely broken down, denial to have a matter expeditiously dealt with amounts to a denial of justice itself, especially if the matter concerns some poor person languishing in the Jail to have his matter heard, Ladies and gentlemen in the east Demerara there is a prisoner who was tried in 2000 for a rape he allegedly committed in 1984, sixteen years before, how many others are there? In the West Demerara magisterial district the situation regarding delays appears to be particularly inexplicable and astonishing.

     All of this is very depressing ladies and gentlemen so we must insist that our lawyers do their jobs, that our magistrates do their jobs, that our judges do theirs, that the recommendations made by these two British judges be addressed immediately, temporary judges must be taken on board to clear the huge backlog, the two vacancies for pusine judges should be filled immediately to bring their number up to the statutory 11, and preferably even increased to around 14, since their numbers at present are totally incapable of handling the huge work load, the appeal court judges should be brought up to strength, there may even be a case for us to raise the age of retirement of our judges to 70 years old, which is now the age of retirement in England, the administrative staff must be paid more to attract better qualified persons, and finally all political interference in the judicial system must stop, when judges are required to fit the law into political agenda the process of justice slows to a halt.