Georgetown, Guyana (January 22, 2020): President David Granger, this morning, declared open the Diamond- Grove Magistrates’ Court, noting that the establishment of the Court in Demerara-Mahaica (Region Four) is another step in the direction of providing easier access to justice, for everyone, everywhere.
“Access to justice is a fundamental and foundational principle of the rule of law. It is characteristic of a democratic state and considered as a hallmark of modern civilization. It protects citizens’ human rights. Equality before the law can exist only where there is access to the law. The absence of access to the law deprives citizens of “…equal protection and benefit of the law,” President Granger said, at the opening ceremony of the $132 million court.
The President said access to justice is a guiding principle of Guyana’s Judiciary while noting that the decentralization of the Magistracy conforms to the Government’s policy of extending public services countrywide.
“The rule of law would flounder without access to justice. Access to justice requires that citizens are provided with legal recourse that is accessible and affordable; protected against unlawful usurpation of their property, the violation of their rights and disruptions to public order; and protected from persons who represent a threat to society. Access to justice is a public good. An accessible justice system strengthens public security and provides assurances to investors that there would be easy access to settling disputes,” President Granger said.
The Head of State noted that the regionalization of public services – including access to justice – is imperative in light of the relative vastness of our regions, the remoteness of many hinterland communities and the diverse landscapes in which they are located.
“Every citizen, everywhere, is entitled to the protection of the law. He or she can benefit from this protection only if the services of the country’s legal system are accessible. Law binds citizens to society. Law establishes the rules with which citizens are obliged to comply. Law is essential to personal relations, public order and progress. Society would disintegrate into chaos without explicit laws to direct human relations, protect citizens and fetter institutional and executive power,” the President said.
The Head of State said too that the criminal justice system ― comprising the Courts, the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), lawyers, the Police Force and the Prison Service ― is essential to enforcing laws, deterring violations and punishing and rehabilitating those who break the law.
Guyana’s 54 magistrates’ courts – including the Bail Court, Drug Treatment and Rehabilitation Court, Juvenile Court and the Sexual Offences Court – are presided over by 23 magistrates. In this regard, President Granger said the Executive is willing to support the appointment of a sufficient number of magistrates so that courts could be manned adequately to ensure the timely dispensation of justice.
Further, President Granger said human society is becoming more complex and the law must change, accordingly. He said justice is no longer limited to the imposition of punishment, adding that human rights and rehabilitation have become central objectives of modern legal systems.
“The criminal justice system should not respond in a stereotyped style to crimes. Greater flexibility is needed in dispensing justice so that one-type of punishment – imprisonment – is not perceived as a panacea for punishing or deterring crime. Magistrate’s courts in some jurisdictions are taking steps to reduce the practice of mandatory incarceration for certain offences. Alternatives to custodial sentencing are being carefully considered where appropriate and are part of the heritage of the country’s ethnic groups,” the Head of State said, even as he commended Chancellor of the Judiciary, Justice Yonette Cummings-Edwards and Chief Justice (AG) Justice Roxane George for continuing the programme of establishing magisterial courts throughout the country.
President Granger reminded that legal systems do not exist in a vacuum noting that the courts are linked to the citizens and communities they serve.
“The choice of Diamond-Grove as the location for the construction of this new court was a necessity. Diamond-Grove is one of the fastest growing settlements in the country. It is estimated that more than 35,000 persons now live in this neighbourhood. The establishment of the court typifies the connection between the courts and the community. It manifests the decentralization of legal services, particularly to rural and hinterland regions and communities,” he said.
President Granger assured the members of the legal profession gathered at the opening ceremony that with the Decade of Development: 2020-2029 – a ten-year plan – there will be a period of accelerated development in all fields, including the country’s justice administration system.
“The Executive branch respects the independence of the judiciary. It has never sought to interfere with, or to direct, the administrative policies of the judicial branch of the state. It has supported the efforts of the judiciary in improving the country’s legal system.
The Executive Branch will continue to lend its support to initiatives by the judiciary during the Decade of Development. It is confident that by the end of the ‘Decade’, access to justice would have been improved considerably and magistrates and judges will be working in a much-improved judicial system,” he said.
The establishment of the Diamond-Grove Magistrates’ Court will ease the caseload which was borne by the Providence Magistrates’ Court and will improve access to justice for the estimated 70,000 residents of the entire East Bank Demerara.
“Guyana’s system of justice administration still faces many challenges but it is becoming more resilient and robust. Citizens can be assured of progressive improvements in the system administration system,” President Granger said.
Meanwhile, Justice Cummings-Edwards expressed gratitude to those who made the establishment of the Court possible. The Chancellor, like President Granger, underscored the importance of decentralising the services provided by the judiciary.
“Prior to the establishment of this Courthouse, sittings of the Magistrates’ Court as you know took place at the Providence Magistrates’ Court. It is no secret that Providence is one of the busiest courts in Guyana,” she said, noting that the Providence Magistrates’ Court was unable to cater to the increase in legal matters along the East Bank corridor.
Minister of Legal Affairs and Attorney General, Mr. Basil Williams, S.C., President of the Bar Association, Mr. Teni Housty; Former Chancellor of the Judiciary, Justice Carl Singh; retired Judge, Justice Prem Persaud, Justices of the Court of Appeal and the High Court as well as members of the magistracy attended the opening ceremony.
The new Court was constructed at the cost of $132million with an additional $11million in engineer’s fees and reimbursements. The courtrooms are equipped with recording equipment.