A recent report titled Caribbean Justice published by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) showed that Guyana’s criminal system has a backlog of cases which has been plaguing the judiciary for decades. This is due to the fact that there are only two criminal courts and a shortage of judges and prosecutors. However, despite this, there is no shortage of criminal attorneys-at-law.
The report highlighted that there are only 14 of the expected 20 High Court judges, and three of the expected five Court of Appeal Judges. Furthermore, the report said that despite advertisements, there are only two judicial research assistants on staff. There are several district Magistrate’s Courts that also deal with criminal matters.
Whilst the assignment of temporary judges has been used in the past in the Court of Appeal, this is not seen as a permanent solution, the Report noted.
The Report disclosed that stakeholders noted that while the backlog in civil matters has been reduced, the increase in both civil and criminal cases will slowly increase the backlog since the original backlog was more of a one-off exercise which depended on the goodwill of judges who took on extra caseloads.
“If the present cadre of Judges is not increased, then the issue of backlogs will not be addressed. It is recommended that further options for increasing the human resource capacity including for judicial legal research assistants, Judges, prosecutors, and trained mediators be explored,” the report stated.
The Supreme Court of Judicature has two divisions: the High Court, which consists of the Chief Justice, who shall be its President, and any number of puisne judges not exceeding such maximum as may be prescribed from time to time by order of the President. And the Court of Appeal consists of the Chancellor of the Judiciary, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and as many justices as the National Assembly may prescribe.
The Chancellor of the Court of Appeal is the country’s chief judicial officer. Both the High Court and Court of Appeal have original and appellate jurisdiction.
The Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) is appointed by the Judicial Service Commission and is supported by three Assistant DPPs, three Senior State Counsel, and nine State Counsel, according to the information posted on the chamber’s website.
The majority of criminal charges are disposed of in the Magistrates’ courts and the police are the prosecutors, thereby resulting in the prosecution of most of the criminal charges being done by police prosecutors.
Generally, the prosecutors in the Magistrates’ courts are the police. In order to improve the quality of prosecutions by police prosecutors, the Commissioner of Police has seconded around four police prosecutors on a full-time basis to the DPP’s Chambers.