As part of the Government’s legislative agenda to modernize and make more efficient, the criminal justice system, a draft Criminal Law Procedure (Paper Committals) Bill 2023 has been prepared by the Attorney General’s Chambers and Ministry of Legal Affairs.
The Bill provides for the abolition of preliminary inquiries and the substitution thereof with paper committals, which involves reviewing the evidence and arguments presented by both the Prosecution and the Defence in written form, rather than conducting an in-person hearing.
Under the new system, the magistrate will review the written submissions and make a determination based on the available evidence.
The paper committal process saves time and resources by eliminating the need for witness testimony and cross-examination during the preliminary inquiry stage. This will inevitably save judicial time, reduce the backlog of criminal cases and reduce the prison population on remand.
The Bill will bring Guyana on par with jurisdictions across the Caribbean and the Commonwealth that have already abolished the use of Preliminary Inquiry. Only recently, while in Guyana, judges of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) hailed this measure as one that has worked with great success in the Caribbean and across the Commonwealth in reducing the backlog of cases, reducing time spent on remand, bringing greater speed, and overall improving the efficiency in the criminal justice system.
The Paper Committal system was first introduced into Guyana by the Sexual Offences Act in 2010. It has survived several legal challenges and has worked reasonably well.
The Attorney General Chambers and Ministry of Legal Affairs in June, 2023 invited comments in writing on the draft Criminal Law Procedure (Paper
Committals) Bill 2023. Submissions were solicited from the Chambers of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), the Office of the Police Legal Advisor, the Guyana Bar Association, the Berbice Bar Association, and the Law Reform Commission.
The Bill will be soon taken to Cabinet and thence to be laid in the National Assembly.