The lawyer representing the teenage girl who was slapped with 19 murder charges in connection with the Mahdia Secondary School female dormitory fire has expressed concerns about the slothfulness of Guyana’s judiciary. He believes it can result in his client being tried as an adult – if committed to stand trial.
During an interview on ‘The Narrative’ aired on WPG10, a Grenada media entity, attorney-at-law Dexter Todd was questioned on what lies ahead for his client if she is committed to stand trial in the high court.
Todd is the lead lawyer representing the 15-year-old girl who was placed before the court last Monday and remanded to a juvenile holding Centre.
He said, “If the charges are to be taken up to the higher court before a judge and jury, it’s likely that the juvenile might not be a juvenile at the time.”
The lawyer explained that Guyana is faced with a situation where trials in the high court take a long time to come up after the closure of the preliminary inquiry (PI) at the magistracy level.
After the closure of the PI , Todd said the depositions are then submitted to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Shalimar Ali-Hack, SC, within a six months period for review. The DPP would then ascertain if there is any reason to ask the magistrate who conducted the PI to take more evidence. He added that the DPP is the person who indicts an accused.
He explained that only after the indictment is laid that the accused would be placed on the Criminal Assizes list for trial. This he said can take years to conclude.
“…We have situations in Guyana in which persons are awaiting trials for more than four years, five years, six years, seven years, eight years, nine years after the close of their preliminary inquiry,” the lawyer added.
Todd said this state of affairs occurs since the judiciary does not have a full complement of required judges to breakdown the back log of cases.
He explained, “So the judges are the ones that are really working beyond the call without any rest just to preserve the rights of individuals and to ensure that this prolonged delay for the trial does not continue…you have in one area sometimes one judge sitting in the criminal assizes with a list of over 600-700 persons.”
The lawyer said that one session in the criminal assizes usually last three months, and within that time, the judges are only able to do a few of those matters.
Todd highlighted that the situation is worrying and noted that it is a known issue which has been recognized by the Chancellor of the Judiciary (Ag), Yonette Cummings-Edwards, the Chief Justice (Ag) Roxanne George-Wiltshire, and the Attorney General (AG) Anil Nandlall, SC.
The lawyer went on to explain, “So we might be faced with that situation if these charges were to go up for trial. It’s not it’s not likely that the juvenile will still be a juvenile at the time of which the trial might come up.”
He continued that if his client is committed, and because of the possibility she would not be a juvenile at that time of trial, she will likely be tried as an adult.
Todd noted however that there are instances when judges consider the age of the individual at the time a said crime was committed. This is one of the factors considered when penalties are handed down in such cases.