Restorative Justice taken to Region Five

The Hon. Mohabir Anil Nandlall SC MP, Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs on Saturday, August 12, 2023 conducted a public awareness session on restorative justice at the Latchmansingh Primary School, Bushlot, West Coast Berbice. The public awareness session is part of a slew of activities under the

Inter-American Develop Bank (IDB)-funded Support for the Criminal Justice System (SCJS) programme, intended to popularise the concept of restorative justice. Earlier this year, Parliament enacted the Restorative Justice Act as a measure to overcome prison overcrowding by reducing pre-trial detention, reducing recidivism and increasing the use of alternative sentencing, among other things. The Hon. Attorney General was accompanied by Mr. Seelall Persaud, Director of Restorative Justice, Mr. Faizal Jaffarally, Member of Parliament for Region Five (Mahaica – Berbice) and Ms. Indira Anandjit, SCJS Programme Director.

The Hon. Attorney General in his remarks told the hundreds of citizens gathered at the event that restorative Justice is an approach to justice that seeks to repair the harm caused the offender, by providing an opportunity for the victim and the perpetrator to interrogate the issue which caused the problem and to make amends either by the payment of compensation or on such terms agreed upon by the parties. It is also intended to observe manifestations of deviant behaviour and to address them very early, long before they engage the formal legal system.

Significantly, restorative justice allows the lay public, such as community leaders, religious leaders, teachers, etc, to play a central role both in the formal legal system as well as outside of the legal system. The Hon. Attorney General explained that in the formal legal system, cases will be referred either by the Magistrate or the Director of Public Prosecutions to trained restorative justice officers located within each Magisterial district and these persons will manage the engagement between the perpetrator and the victim. In the non-formal legal system, teachers, for example, once properly trained, will be able to detect manifestations of problems in children’s behaviour in schools. They will be required to interrogate these situations to determine the root causes. It may be an abusive environment at home. Once the problem is detected, steps will be taken to address it at this early stage. This simple remedy can prevent a child from being prone to criminal conduct.

He noted that the concept is fairly new, and will allow the courts to make Orders outside of the conventional penal nature of Orders that it is now circumscribed to make, and explore a whole host of potential and opportunities to address in a real, practical and pragmatic way, the circumstances that may have led to criminal conduct and for that conduct to be rehabilitated and for compensation to be paid.

He also clarified that the restorative justice concept is not open to all criminal offences but a few minor, petty offences which can be dealt with at a community level and allow for direct rehabilitative intervention. In this regard, offences such as murder, manslaughter, rape, robbery, sexual offences, offences involving minors, and other violent offences are exempted the restorative justice.

The Hon. Attorney General stressed that the concept of restorative justice allows for justice to be served in a way that promotes healing and accountability, while also reducing recidivism and keeping individuals out of prison who may not need to be there. He stressed that the approach can only work through support from members of the community and solicited their assistance to see the success of the programme.The Hon. Attorney General promised the residents of Region Five that this is only the first of many engagements and that the Director of Restorative Justice, Mr. Seelall Persaud will return with a training programme to train suitable qualified persons who are willing to participate in the programme.

Remarks were also delivered by the Director of Restorative Justice. Mr. Persaud, a former Commissioner of Police, explained that currently he is executing a pilot project involving several communities on the East Coast of Demerara. Once that pilot is successfully completed the system will be replicated across the administrative regions of the country. Members of the public were given the opportunity to ask questions and seek clarity.

With the enactment of the Restorative Justice Act in November, 2022 a Restorative Justice Centre was established in April, 2023 which is staffed by trained professionals who will work with victims, offenders, and their communities to develop individualised plans that focus on repairing the harm caused by criminal behaviour and preventing further offences. Teachers, community leaders, Toshaos and religious leaders have already benefited from this training. The training exercise will continue across Guyana. A similar outreach exercise is scheduled to be held in Region Six (East Berbice – Corentyne) before the end of August.