Children’s Court fostering rehabilitation of young offenders – Magistrate Bess
Since its establishment in late 2018, the Children’s Court which is situated in the compound of the Georgetown Magistrates’ Courts, has been aiding significantly with rehabilitating young persons who come into conflict with the law in keeping with the provisions of the Juvenile Justice Act.
This is according to Magistrate Dylon Bess, one of the Magistrates assigned to the court, who revealed that the court which promotes modern juvenile justice, has been partnering with several agencies to ensure that juveniles are educated and rehabilitated for reintegration into society.
“We have been able to see some phenomenal results with our interactions and engagement with the children. We have been able to see instead of hardcore sentences, drug treatment sponsorship from the Child Care and Protection Agency (CPA) and waiver of fees for the Phoenix Recovery [Project],” said Magistrate Bess as he detailed the court’s success story.
According to him, children are provided with school uniform assistance, funding for tools to access trades, stipends from probation services to assist them with their needs, grants from the Small Business Bureau to start-up their own business and referred to coaching and counselling programmes.
“We have seen the probation assisting one family to get a house lot because the needs of the child demanded a space that was safe. We have seen children being placed in schools and homes and have been responding very well to psychologist and counselling.”
“We have seen their lives changed as a result of these interventions,” he noted, adding that the Children’s Court has also helped juveniles enlist in the Guyana Police Force, the Guyana Defence Force, the Georgetown Technical Institute (GTI) and the Kuru Kuru Co-operative College, just to name a few.
The Juvenile Justice Act defines a juvenile as a person who appears to be 14 years and older but less than 18 years old. Magistrate Bess explained that under Section 4 (1) of the Juvenile Justice Act, the presumption is any child under the age of 14 is incapable of committing an offence.
“I wish to note that this is just a presumption. Presumptions can be rebutted in law by presenting evidence to the contrary. This does not mean that if you are below the age of 14 you cannot be charged. It means that the court must engage in an elaborate procedure to determine whether or not that child has the criminal capacity to commit an offence.”
The criminal capacity of the child, he said, can be determined by the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), the prosecutor or the child’s lawyer requesting that the child’s cognitive, psychological and social development be evaluated by a qualified person. Once this is done, he pointed out that the court will then conduct an inquiry to determine if the presumption is rebutted.
If it is rebutted, the child is dealt with under the Act. If it is not, the child is referred to the CPA and the DPP withdraws the charge against them. If the child, on the other hand, pleads guilty to an offence, Magistrate Bess noted that the court must be satisfied that the facts of the matter constitute an offence, before proceeding to pass a sentence which is done after a pre-sentence report is submitted.
Among other things, the pre-sentencing report contains information on the child’s character, willingness to improve and make amends, history of delinquency and diversion and school attendance. According to the Magistrate, the court will proceed with a trial, which is conducted in-camera, if the child pleads not guilty.
Throughout the proceedings, the Act mandates that the child must be represented by a lawyer. If for any reason the child does not have a lawyer, the court must grant him/her reasonable time to retain a lawyer. The child will be referred to legal aid or given a State-appointed lawyer if he/she cannot afford to retain counsel.
No jail time
The Magistrate added that the Juvenile Justice Act stipulates that a child cannot be sentenced to imprisonment. The Act also stipulates that a child cannot be sentenced to death for the offence of murder.
The Act states that where a juvenile is found guilty of an offence, this finding of guilty shall not be recorded as a conviction. According to Magistrate Bess, there are two categories of offences listed under the Act – scheduled offences and non-scheduled offences.
For the non-scheduled offences like break and enter and larceny, he explained that a wide range of sentences is available such as reprimand, discharge, payment of fines and restitution, being placed on probation and orders to perform community service, letters of apology.
For scheduled offences like murder, manslaughter and serious robbery, the child can be placed on probation, committed to an open residential facility such as the New Opportunity Corps, both for a period not exceeding three years, and be given supervision orders with conditions for a period not exceeding five years.