JURIST Project has improved quality, efficiency of Guyana’s justice system – Chancellor

…reiterates need for more Judges

Guyana’s Judiciary has received unwavering support from the Canada-funded Judicial Reform and Institutional Strengthening (JURIST) Project, which, according to Chancellor of the Judiciary (ag) Justice Yonette Cummings-Edwards, has improved the quality and efficiency of the country’s justice system.
She made these remarks at a recent ceremony for the handing over of several digital notice boards which have been installed at the Georgetown Magistrates’ Courts. “We have received enormous, tangible, and appreciable support from the JURIST which has enhanced the country’s judicial system and increased the ability to deliver justice in a timely, efficient, and effective manner and to ensure access to justice,” said Justice Yonette Cummings-Edwards as she expressed gratitude to the Canadian Government.
She outlined that the Judiciary has received support in case management and case disposition training, backlog reduction and elimination, drafting and implementation of the new civil procedure rules, public education programmes, model guidelines for handling sexual offence cases, mediation training, the establishment of a knowledge management system, and gender training.

Training for trainer
In terms of training for the trainer, she said that several Magistrates and Judges have received training on how to enhance their capacity, disaster management and planning, Information Technology, and tools for court among other areas at training programmes offered by JURIST that were held in Trinidad and Tobago, South Africa, and Antigua and Barbuda.
Under the old civil procedure rules from 1985, Justice Yonette Cummings-Edwards explained that cases “took over three years” before hearing dates were assigned, noting that it was evident that delays and backlog, the excessive cost associated with litigation and unintelligent and archaic processes were the order of the day.
However, Justice Cummings-Edwards said that with the help of JURIST, the Judiciary under the stewardship of then-Chancellor Carl Singh was able to implement new civil procedure rules in 2016 which see cases being assigned hearing dates within a few months of being filed, resulting in cases flowing efficiently in the justice system.
“The pre-trial process itself is much shorter…today the Supreme Court can boast of zero backlogs of all matters under the old rules. The rate at which cases are managed under the new rules “has us all crying out for more Judges’”, she added.
According to her, Attorney General Anil Nandlall, SC, has taken heed of “our cries” for more than the “11 plus two Judges in the High Court”. She said there is also a need for more Magistrates. She further said that the JURIST-trained mediators have undergone refresher trainer and have been working remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic to “tackle matters than can be deposed of by way of mediation”.
Apart from digital notice boards, the JURIST Project has donated IT equipment such as digital audio recording units, public address units, Skype units, and laptops to the Judiciary. The donation of equipment has been timely and has assisted the Judiciary in its efforts at modernisation and getting the work done during the pandemic, Justice Cummings-Edwards said.
“The COVID was like an enemy and came in like a flood and tried to disrupt and disturb and destroy every institution, every activity, every business. And the Judiciary was not spared, however, a standard was lifted which destroyed the pandemic’s efforts at crippling the operations of the court…” she added.
She continued, “With the support from JURIST, we have been able to accomplish much. The support from JURIST over the year has been phenomenal and it grew exponentially during the pandemic. We were moving on the turtle’s back on the technological road. Many of our courts were without recording units. The handwriting of notes of evidence was the order of the day. Witnesses were asked to slow down as they gave their testimony or even to repeat aspects of their testimony to afford an accurate note-taking of the evidence by the judicial officer”.
But thanks to JURIST, Justice Cummings-Edwards said that the Judiciary can now boast that all of the courts have facilities for recording evidence. “The end game”, she noted, has been to safely keep the courts open to meet the legal needs of society. At present, some local Magistrates and Judges are contributing to a regional bench book which is being done by the JURIST Project.
The JURIST Project is a multi-year (2014-2023) regional Caribbean judicial reform initiative funded under an arrangement with the Government of Canada. The Project is being implemented on behalf of Global Affairs Canada (GAC) and the Conference of Heads of Judiciary of the Caribbean Community (Caricom) by the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), which was appointed by the Conference as its Regional Executing Agency (REA).
The JURIST Project commenced activities on April 1, 2014, after the signing of a Contribution Arrangement between the CCJ and GAC. The Government of Canada is providing CAD19,400,000.00 while the CCJ as the executing agency and other regional partners will contribute CAD1,441,689.00 and CAD2,883,327.00, respectively.
The Project is working with judiciaries in the region to support their own efforts to improve court administration and strengthen the ability of the courts and the Judiciary to resolve cases efficiently and fairly. The Project is being implemented in at least six countries and will be expanded to include other territories in the region.
The Project is also building the capacity of regional trial and appellate courts, including the CCJ, to facilitate the deepening of economic integration and improve court governance, case flow management, and the timeliness of case disposition.
According to the JURIST Project, the enhancement of fair and efficient case disposition will improve the quality of justice delivery, inspire public confidence in the justice system, foster gender equality throughout the courts and make the region more attractive to foreign and domestic investment. (G1)