The lack of trust and confidence in Guyana’s judiciary is stemmed from the inconsistent approaches to bail and sentencing, says a recent Report by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) which assesses the judicial systems in nine Caribbean territories.
The Report pointed out that the length of time in completing civil and criminal cases also affects public perception whilst a lack of trust and confidence stems from inconsistent approaches to bail and sentencing as there are no sentencing and bail guidelines or legislation in Guyana.
The UNDP Report, therefore, recommended, that sentencing guidelines and bench books be provided for both Magistrates and High Court Judges. It noted that the Bail Act can also assist in criminal justice as this Act would be able to streamline approaches in terms of those who are qualified for bail.
The rules must also involve the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) actively managing cases from committal proceedings for a more efficient process, the Report noted. In a judgement delivered in May 2020, in a sexual offences case from Guyana, the full bench of seven judges of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) stressed the need for sentencing guidelines to be developed and published by the Judiciary of Guyana.
The Regional Judges agreed that trial judges of Guyana would benefit greatly from sentencing guidelines crafted, agreed upon and published by the Judiciary of Guyana. As a matter of fact, one of the Judges, underscored, “The publication of sentencing guidelines would undoubtedly play a key role in building public trust and confidence in the Judiciary of Guyana and in promoting the rule of law.”
Meanwhile, in May 2019, the Ministry of Legal Affairs advertised that it was looking for a consultant to draft a Bail Act. The Bail Act will be aimed at bringing uniformity in relation to the granting and refusal of bail. It is expected to bring some level of consistency in this regard.
According to a 2018 Improve Access to Justice in the Caribbean (IMPACT) Report, there are five Caribbean states that have a Bail Act. These are Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, Jamaica, St. Lucia, St. Kitts and Nevis.
Those without include Guyana, Grenada, Belize, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Montserrat, Dominica and Antigua and Barbuda. In Guyana, bail is not granted for certain offences like murder and treason.
Guyana’s Constitution embraces the doctrine of presumption of innocence until proven guilty and provides that a person who has been charged but not tried within a reasonable time is entitled to be released either unconditionally or upon reasonable conditions.
In considering bail, Judges and Magistrates would consider the serious nature and gravity of the offence, the likelihood of a defendant returning to court, the prevalence of the offence, the criminal record of the defendant, witness tampering, among other factors. Presently, there have been inconsistent approaches by different courts in relation to bail.