DPP calls for more judges to dispose of cases faster

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The Director of Public Prosecution (DPP), Shalimar Ali-Hack, S.C., has issued a call for an increase in the complement of High Court judges to dispose of criminal proceedings in a timelier manner as the number of cases on trial has increased significantly over the years.

“We need more judges in the judiciary so there can be more judges sitting in the [criminal] sittings so that this number of increased cases can be disposed of timelier,”  Ali-Hack said at the opening of the January Assizes and 2023 Law Year.

Assizes, in law, means a session or term and is historically done in England. This practice was also implemented in Guyana and Assizes are held in the counties of Demerara, Essequibo and Berbice.

As the January 2023 assizes opens, 308 cases are listed to be heard by three judges; 134 Sexual Offences cases are listed to be heard by one judge while the remaining 174 cases are listed to be heard by two judges.

The county of Demerara saw a 33 per cent increase of cases for this January 2023 assizes as compared to 230 cases in January 2018.

Chief Justice Roxane George (front left) and Chancellor, Yonette Cummings-Edwards (front right) at the opening of the January 2023 Assizes and 2023 Law Year [Photo: News Room/January 10, 2023]
Increasing the complement of judges is just one measure the DPP has called for to help to dispose of the heavy workload of the judiciary in a timely manner.

She also advocated for the amending of Section 27 of the High Court Act which deals with Ordinary sittings of the Court in its criminal jurisdiction and restricts each country to four sittings per calendar year.

“There are four sittings for Demerara and time is lost with the winding down of sittings by judges as the sitting comes to an end; whereas, if there was one sitting for the year then there will be no need for winding down,” she said.

The DPP also made a plea for a Bench Book to be used by judges at trials, noting that a Bench Book would provide standard directions which judges would use in their summing up and reduce the chances of defences not being  fairly put by judges.

“When defences are not adequately put by the judges at the trial this can be a ground for the Court of Appeal allowing an appeal and ordering a retrial. Retrials are costly to the State and puts a strain on an already overburdened system,” she said.

Article 128 (1) of Guyana’s constitution states that “judges, other than the chancellor and chief justice, shall be appointed by the President, who shall act in accordance with the advice of the Judicial Service Commission.”

However, the Judicial Service Commission  has not been reconstituted since 2017; it was slated to be reconstituted on July 1, 2022 but was not.

Attorney-General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Anil Nandlall S.C., during his programme, “Issues in the News” last week said the Commission will be constituted early this year.

Noteworthy, with a high caseload being sent to the Court of Appeal and a small complement of judges there to dispose of matters in a timely manner, the government intends to amend the law to increase the number of serving Appeal Court Justices.

Additionally, the government is also proposing to make the Court of Appeal itinerant which will allow the Appeal Court Justices to sit in different counties to hear appeals in those counties.

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