‘Accused persons on remand should be tried sooner’ – CCJ Judge
…but local judiciary complains of sore challenges
By Vishani Ragobeer
Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) Judge, Jacob Wit, says that accused persons who are on remand should be tried at a much faster rate instead of spending years in prison as part of efforts to dismiss cases and ease prison overcrowding.
While presenting a lecture on ‘Rethinking the Criminal Justice System’ at the Arthur Chung Conference Centre, at Liliendaal, Georgetown, Justice Wit said accused persons who are on remand should be tried within six months to a year while accused persons on bail should be tried within 18 months to two years.
And he believes the establishment of a pre-trial chamber will help countries like Guyana improve the criminal justice system.
Such a chamber, he said, would constantly supervise both the defence and the prosecution and the evidence amassed in the cases. It should also have timelines for work being done and have a transparent mechanism for granting bail before trial.
If this is done, the Judge believes that weak cases can be sifted out while stronger ones are kept.
“…it is a matter of organising the pre-trial phase and being brave enough to take some decisions,” the CCJ Judge said, noting that if there is new evidence, an acquitted person can be re-arrested and tried.
Lengthy time spent on remand before a trial is an issue in Guyana and other Caribbean countries. Accused persons who spent time in prison awaiting a trial have complained of the horrible conditions they are faced with.
Jones Raymond, the 58-year-old man who was freed after spending nine years on remand for murder, filed a $3 million lawsuit against the State in December 2022 for this reason.
Raymond admitted to killing a man with an arrow after his son was attacked but said he acted in self-defence. He was, however, freed after High Court judge Sandil Kissoon found that his constitutional right to a free trial within a reasonable time was breached by the State.
And in his lawsuit, he detailed the inhumane conditions he faced, including being assaulted by other prisoners and being shot with pellets by prison guards trying to quell a riot.
While there was general agreement with the Judge’s assertion at the lecture, challenges in the local judicial system that affect faster trials were highlighted.
Justice Jo-Ann Barlow, who spoke at a panel discussion after Justice Wit’s lecture, acknowledged that people’s access to justice is a fundamental right.
To ensure that a person’s right to access justice is guaranteed, however, Justice Barlow said more judicial officers and support staff are badly needed.
“It is by the grace of the Almighty that we manage to keep the system afloat.
“…The accused persons who may come to hear Justice Wit’s opinion that they should be tried within six months to a year will come knocking with expectations and expectations that cannot be realised given our circumstances,” the Judge said.
These circumstances have been ventilated before and many in the legal and judicial sector have been complaining about the shortages of judges, support staff and other judicial officers especially when compared to the huge backlog of cases to be dealt with.
The Irfaan Ali-led government has committed to the reappointment of the Judicial Service Commission so that more judicial officers can be appointed.
The Judge also said that entities and agencies whose work intersect with the judicial system should be strengthened as part of efforts to get cases resolved faster.