Legal aid programme to work in defense of minor offenders to be piloted in 2018

DPI, GUYANA, Tuesday, November 28, 2017

As part of the Government ‘s efforts to streamline a Budget that is more child-focused and youth-friendly, a legal aid programme will be piloted in 2018 and is expected to work on the defense of minor, non-violent offenders, who are on pre-trial detention.

Minister of Finance, Winston Jordan.

This pronouncement was made by Finance Minister Winston Jordan in the National Assembly yesterday during his 2018 National Budget presentation.

The Minister said “It is not the wish of this administration to have children and youth incarcerated for petty offences, such as wandering. To continue to do so would be to deprive this nation of the true potential of its rich human capital.”

By the end of 2018, it is envisioned that work on the over 500 cases of this nature will commence with an assessment on the sustainability of the pilot, and on providing capacity building to non-governmental organisations that share a similar objective.

Work on the new legal aid programme, Minister Jordan said, is part of a broader vision, which seeks to reduce the burden on our prisons, allowing for a more people focused, efficient justice system. It also allows for more effective use of limited financial and human resources.

Alongside the legal aid programme, the Government will be establishing a Law Reform Commission, which will work on “amending and modernising our legislation to cater for non-custodial sanctions for various types of offence.”

A re-examination of the current system, the Minister said, that incarcerates a person for the usage of harmful substances will be done. “Our people need our compassion and our help so that they can be rehabilitated and given the support they need to live healthy and productive lives. In 2018, we will be conducting a study on appropriate treatments for substance abuse as a health issue within the criminal justice system,” he noted.

Interaction with the judiciary will be informed as the Administration assists in developing policies to reduce over-reliance on imprisonment. Probation services will also be strengthened to support this paradigm shift, Minister Jordan highlighted.

Importantly, the Minister said the Government continues to reform and modernise the justice system, in order to reduce the backlog and delays in cases, increase efficiency, and ensure that justice is available to all.

In this vein, the Finance Minister reported to the National Assembly that “Guyana is the first in the Caribbean to have established a specialised court for sexual offences that is sensitive to the needs and circumstances of victims.”

The Sexual Offences court, which was opened on November 13, 2017, will hear all indictable sexual offence cases and will offer a rights-based approach, in recognition that victims are often ‘re-victimised’ under the previous format.

Government is awaiting the laying and passage of the Juvenile Justice Bill, which addresses diversionary options and access to legal aid for children and youth; in the meantime, the Finance Minister explained that the Bill is being costed so that its potential for additional financial responsibility, or for savings to the taxpayer, can be identified.

 

By: Stacy Carmichael

 

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