After two-year hiatus, in-person hearings of the Demerara Criminal Assizes return

─ 354 cases to be heard in April session

Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Mohabir Anil Nandlall, S.C, M.P is calling for a blend of in – person and virtual hearings as the criminal session of the Demerara Assizes of April 2022 opened on Tuesday.

The session was opened in the compound of the Victoria Law Courts as part of Law Week 2022 which is being held under the theme ‘Advancing the rule of law in the new normal,’ after a two-year hiatus.

Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Mohabir Anil Nandlall S.C, M.P

The opening of the session paves the way for the hearing of 354 cases which includes 174 sexual offence cases and 75 murder cases.

The Attorney General said in person and virtual hearings should form an integral part of the new normal to propel the machinery of justice.

Chancellor of the Judiciary (ag) Justice Yonette Cummings-Edwards, Chief Justice (ag) Roxane George and several Attorneys during the parade to open the Criminal Session of the Demerara Assizes

He explained that, “virtual courtrooms have the ability to instantaneously transport judges, magistrates, attorneys at law to court rooms and when the hearing is over, they are immediately transported back to their homes, offices, cars or the local bar. This reduction in time needed to travel allows these officers to shift focus to other matters much quicker.”

The Attorney General pointed out that when COVID-19 threw the world into chaos, the judiciary had to find ways to ensure justice was served.

“In the midst of this physical shutdown of courts which graduated to virtual courts, the legal fraternity stood tall and rose to the occasion of adjusting to the new normal. We could no longer operate as we used to, technology and internet became indispensable. We heard of zoom for the first time and e-meeting and teleconferencing became the norm rather than the exception in the day to day and other operations,” the Attorney General stated.

Chancellor of the Judiciary (ag) Justice Yonette Cummings-Edwards, Chief Justice (ag) Roxane George and several Attorneys during the parade to open the Criminal Session of the Demerara Assizes

During the period 2020, it was noted that a number of cases were brought before the courts, including the challenge against the 2020 elections results, President, Dr. Mohamed Irfaan Ali’s power to confer silk, and two election petitions.

AG Nandlall said that period showed that the legal fraternity acquitted itself with great distinction in serving the people of Guyana. The Attorney General also highlighted that collaboration between the executive and the judiciary paved the way for virtual hearings of court cases from the prisons.

“The fact that we were able to innovate, the fact that we were able to collaborate, the fact that we were able to tap into technology and devise these new mechanisms, we were able provide an outlet to those type of frustrations in addition to everything else; the fact that we have heard all the other cases and attended to all the issues relating to justice and access to justice,” he noted.

Chancellor of the Judiciary (ag) Justice Yonette Cummings-Edwards, Chief Justice (ag) Roxane George and several Attorneys during the parade to open the Criminal Session of the Demerara Assizes

Chancellor of the Judiciary (ag) Justice Yonette Cummings-Edwards in her feature address spoke to the importance of the rule of law noting that the state shall not deny anyone justice. The Chancellor noted that there must be accountability in the judiciary, adding that the rule of law is alive, and critical to a nation’s development.

Justice Cummings-Edwards stressed that the rule of law cannot be put aside because of a pandemic, and made it clear that the legal profession must find ways to ensure that justice is served.

“It was critical that justice be accessed and administered in a safe manner and without any endangerment to the public health. Apart from issuing practice directions, amending timelines for hearing of matters and for filing of cases, we introduced virtual platforms for hearing of cases… the rule of law has to be advanced or promoted even in this new normal,” she emphasised.

Chief Justice (ag) Roxane George, Director of Public Prosecutions Shalimar Ali-Hack,  and President of the Bar Association, Attorney-at- Law Pauline Chase all echoed similar sentiments on upholding the rule of law.

The opening of the Criminal Session of the Demerara Assizes saw the presence of Chief Magistrate Ann McLennan, United States Ambassador to Guyana Sarah-Ann Lynch, European Union Ambassador to Guyana Fernando Ponz Canto, British High Commissioner Jane Miller, and Indian High Commissioner Dr. K .J Srinivasa, along with other senior officials.

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