Gov’t sees progress in ‘Support for the Criminal Justice System’ Programme

Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Mohabir Anil Nandlall MP, SC, says there has been tremendous progress in the Inter-American Development Bank’s (IDB) Criminal Justice System (SCJS) Programme, which seeks to address overcrowding in prisons.

AG Nandlall was addressing the project’s mid-year review at the Arthur Chung Conference Centre on Wednesday.

“There are certain initiatives that are coming out of this project that are going to be transformational and hopefully permanent institutional. It will be transformational in the sense that they will permanently change the landscape of our legal sector.”

Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Mohabir Anil Nandlall, MP, SC, addressing the review session

The Attorney General noted the critical role of the recently sworn in Law Reform Commission. This body will officially commence operations on September 1.

“Law reform must capture the aspirations of the people and society, the dynamism of society and make that part of the laws so that our laws can continue to have a realistic connection with the aspirations of our people or else our legal system will become obsolete and our people’s vision will be far ahead.”

Meanwhile, SCJS’ Project Manager Indira Anandjit provided a detailed appraisal of the programme.

“From the programme emanated a legal aid clinic; following a consultancy from John Kendrick to design a state-owned legal programme, which focuses on minor, non-violent offences, the Legal Aid Clinic was established in January 2020,”Anandjit stated.

She said the clinic, which offers free legal services to the public, has dealt with over 122 cases, of which 77 matters were completed with 45 pending.

She noted that the Ministry of Legal Affairs has drafted a Restorative Justice Bill and developed standards, guidelines and rules of procedure for the implementation of restorative justice in Guyana.

The Project Manager said a major factor contributing to the overcrowding in prison in Guyana is the flawed nature of the country’s bail system. She explained that the overcrowding situation is compounded when persons remain in prison when they are unable to meet bail. Such persons may end up serving longer periods on remand than they would have served if found guilty of the offence.

To address the misfortune, under the SCJS, a Bail Act will ensure greater consistency in the granting of bail, and providing specific guidelines for Magistrates and Judges when granting bail.

One other alternative to imprisonment is probation. This area is one that is encouraged by the SCJS. It was pointed out that being placed on probation does not mean that the offenders are getting off lightly, but instead they have the opportunity to make amends and rehabilitate while remaining in their communities.

Community service is also another alternative to imprisonment that is identified by the SCJS programme. Community service is not a “soft option if properly implemented and supervised.” Instead, it makes serious demands on offenders in terms of their time, regular attendances, prompt timekeeping and satisfactory performance of work. The introduction of structured community service in Guyana will decrease the prison population and could help make amends for the harm done to victims of crime.