Deadly Camp Street Prison riot
By Shemuel Fanfair
Throughout the execution of its mandate, the Camp Street Prison Commission of Inquiry (CoI) observed the need for continuous revision and updating of the nation’s laws. To this end, the CoI report has given recommendation for the revival of the Law Revision Commission (LRC). Established in 2014, the LRC, a body within the Legal Affairs Ministry, was tasked with ensuring that there was continuous revision of the Laws of Guyana.
“The work of the [Camp Street Prison] Commission in a number of instances revealed a need for the constant updating of our legislation. Formerly this problem was addressed by a Law Commission whose job it was to look at the body of legislation that is current and tailor it for the exigencies of the future…the Commission is, therefore, recommending resuscitation of a standing Law Revision Commission,” an excerpt from the report stated.
According to the Law Revision Act, Chapter 2:02, the Law Revision Commission is meant to have a chairman and no more than four other members whose functions shall be to: “prepare, publish, and maintain in accordance with this Act an edition of the laws of Guyana…”
The CoI report suggested that unsystematic partial measures must not be employed when the Statues are being amended.
“Piecemeal patching up of the Statutes of the State is to be discouraged,” the CoI added.
The Prison CoI also stated that Sentencing guidelines must be formally approved, publicised, disseminated before being enforced.
“Judges and Magistrates must be trained in application of sentencing guidelines,” Commissioners further observed.
It was also recommended that judges and magistrates see visitation rights of prisoners as part of their obligation, adding that visits to prisons by the judges and magistrates must be viewed as a constitutive and obligatory aspect of their duties.
The Commission also pointed out that there must be a minimum number of visits per year and that the Chancellor and Chief Justice should establish, implement and monitor these stipulations.
It was also noted that the release of prisoners, who are on remand should be automatically released once the time served equals the sentence which the offence would have attracted. Further, maximum limits for the time in which inmates are on remand should be taken into consideration.
It has been suggested that the high number of prisoners on remand is responsible for overcrowding in the Prison system. Figures released by the Guyana Prison Service (GPS) demonstrate that 258 prisoners were remanded by magistrates at the end of February 2016.
Other recommendations to ensure reduction of overcrowding included the resolution of legal issues required, the abolishing of Preliminary Inquiries (PIs) as an urgent priority of the judiciary; a robust programme of community-based sentencing alternatives and a piloting of alternative and community-based sentences should be undertaken with women and juvenile offenders.
The CoI came as a result of the deadly Camp Street prison riot in which it is believed inmates lit several fires which resulted in the death of 17 of their fellow prisoners.