Juveniles to be charged with adults for joint crimes as new law is passed
Juveniles or children between the ages of 14 and 18 can now find themselves being charged along with adults in criminal cases following the passage of amendments to the Juvenile Justice Act in the National Assembly on Tuesday night.
Against an increase of criminal activities involving juveniles, the amendments, which were piloted by Minister of Home Affairs Robeson Benn, specifically target juveniles involved in cases related to manslaughter, murder, sexual assault, drug trafficking, arson, abduction of a person, possession of firearm and conspiracy to commit a crime.
“The offense cannot be disposed of summarily, the juvenile may be charged jointly with the adult in one hearing,” the amendment prescribes.
Previously, the law allowed for the justice system to try a juvenile and an adult separately, although they participated in the same crime.
Minister Benn said notwithstanding the change to the law, the right of the juvenile will not be curtailed as the Magistrate or Judge will still have to assess the gravity of the offense and the extent of the juvenile’s involvement.
“It is true that juveniles are less likely to understand what is wrongdoing in itself and it may be more of an emotional response to threats or perceived threats… they are less capable of undertaking premeditated actions,” Benn reasoned.
The amendments have been hailed as a move to significantly reduce the backlog in cases with some 17 juveniles currently incarcerated (15 males and two females) in Guyana’s prison system.
“There is perhaps the issue of sloth in the court, there are issues relating to people refusing to take cases and, of course, we know we are unhappy with respect [to] decisions made in the court,” Minister Benn told the National Assembly.
Meanwhile, Minister of Culture, Youth, and Sport Charles Ramson Jr explained that it is important for the government to ensure that there is a strong deterrence to serious crimes involving teenagers.
Also participating in the debate was Minister of Human Services and Social Security, Dr Vindhya Persaud who noted that there is no intention to remove or jeopardise the rights of juveniles in the furtherance of this law.
“At no point in this amendment are we removing the rights of the juvenile. Would we rather that nothing be done? Would we rather that persons affected by the offenses not have justice done?
“I am pretty sure that as every member would have considered this legislation, it would not have escaped them that the juvenile would be bereft of the rights that are enshrined within the entire act,” Dr Persaud told the House.
Section 3 (b) (i) of the principal Act restricts juveniles from appearing before the Court with an adult but the explanatory memorandum of the amendments highlight that the proposed amendment will create an exception.
“The current criminal justice system often results in witnesses testifying twice, leading to a significant increase in judicial time and expense,” the explanatory memorandum state.