Rupununi Magisterial District Court Office opens
Residents of the Rupununi Region will now enjoy improved access to justice with the opening of the Rupununi Magisterial District Court Office and Courts at Annai, Aishalton and Karasabai.
Speaking at the opening ceremony, where Resident Magistrate, Allan Wilson will preside, President David Granger emphasised the importance of all Guyanese having equal access to the law regardless of geographic location, socio-economic status, ethnicity or educational level.
“There can be no equality before the law without access to justice. The law should be a great leveller. It should not be a divider. It should not be an instrument of oppression of the rich against the poor, or of the strong against the weak. It emphasises citizens’ basic human right to have legal recourse and redress for wrongs committed against them and their property and for the preservation of public order,” the Head of State said.
President Granger noted that ensuring equal access to justice under the law in the Rupununi has always presented a challenge with residents being forced to travel from far-flung communities in the Region to the Magistrates’ Court Office in Georgetown; some 425 km away.
President Granger said that access to justice is a public good and that the State has the responsibility to ensure that it is available to every citizen.
“Residents – including victims of domestic abuse trapped in loveless relationships with their abusers; mothers denied access to their children because they cannot take their husbands and children-fathers to court a hundred kilometres away; small miners and businessmen facing bankruptcy because they cannot reach the court to claim unpaid debts or wages – should not be ignored.
“Access to justice, including ease of access, is every citizen’s legitimate expectation. Residents should not have to travel long distances to access public services, including legal services in other Regions. They should enjoy these services in their respective regions,” he said.
Meanwhile, Chancellor (ag) of the Judiciary, Justice Yonette Cummings-Edwards described the difficulties residents faced as a result of the challenges and noted that it was critical that justice is brought to the doorsteps of the residents of the 89 communities in the Rupununi.
“Prior to this office… court was held occasionally and I’m being modest. For the Lethem area, court was held once every three months, once quarterly, maybe two weeks within the quarter… Justice is not one- sided. Justice has to be for both sides.
“For residents of the region, persons coming all the way from Karasabai or even Aishalton, most of the time the court will be held here in Lethem and they will have to travel sometimes two days just to get to court. And if water is high, you’re familiar with that phrase, it would take even longer for them to get to this court. We in the Supreme Court, we do not sit in an ivory tower. We are in tune with what is going on the ground and we care,” she said.
The Chancellor also described the challenges faced by the Guyana Police Force as a result of infrequent court sittings.
“This project also will bring enormous benefits for the police because out of that system, if someone who was charged with and offence, if it was a serious offence or a non-bailable offence, the Guyana Police Force had to find money to take that prisoner out to Georgetown before Her Worship, the Chief Magistrate, who would take the plea and commit that person on remand to prison or put that person on bail…
“Also, apart from that, if someone wanted to take advantage of the system, they would have known that court will not be sitting in for the next three months so they can fight and do all they wanted to do and know very well that the police cannot do anything much but just give them a warning because court won’t be there anyway and… the maximum time the police could hold them is 72 hours,” she explained.
Chief Magistrate, Ann McLennan told residents gathered at the ceremony that their complaints never fell on deaf ears.
“Today your dreams and the dreams of your fore-parents have become a reality. The representation made and hard work done by your fore parents and your toshaos and your regional representatives was not in vain. Today with the opening of this district court office, access to justice will be easy for the residents of the Rupununi Magisterial District and simultaneously because of the opening of this office and the courts in the villages of Annai, Aishalton and Karasabai, we the magistrates are better equip to perform our duties efficiently and effectively because we now have the tools to do so,” she said.
Magistrate McLennan said that opening is intended to improve court operations and services to court users.
“There will also be weekly court sittings at Lethem and eventually in the villages of Annai, Aishalton and Karasabai. On the days in which these courts sit, filing of documents and all other transactions will be facilitated… Therefore, from today residents of the Rupununi will be no longer be required to travel to Georgetown to file documents; instead filing will take place right here in this district.”
She said that the proposed schedule for Court in the Region is a sitting the first week of the month in Lethem, the second week in Annai, third week in Aishalton and the fourth week at Karasabai.
Meanwhile, President Granger issued a call to the civil society and, particularly members of the legal profession to establish regional legal-aid centres in order to assist poor people to secure adequate legal representation.
Former Chancellor, Mr. Carl Singh, who was recognised for the role he played in ensuring the construction of the Court Building at Lethem, along with Director of Public Prosecution, Ms. Shalimar Ali Hack; Deputy Crime Chief, Mr. Michael Kingston; Commander of ‘F’ Division Superintendent, Mr. Ravindradat Budhram; UN Resident Coordinator, Ms. Mikiko Tanaka were among the special invitees. (Extracted and modified from the Ministry of the Presidency)