Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo on Wednesday led a ministerial delegation to a meeting requested by President David Granger with executives of the Judicial Service Commission.
The meeting surrounded ways on addressing the backlog of cases, the recent fiery riot at the Georgetown Camp Street Prison and the consequential actions that could be taken to address it.
The fire, which erupted on March 3, left 17 inmates dead and several others, including prison officers injured.
Among the numerous complaints raised by prisoners was the lengthy delay of their cases to be called before the court.
The Prime Minister, speaking with the media briefly, said the meeting was quite fruitful. He said many changes will be had in the ensuing days ahead.
“The meeting was to deal with the overcrowding in the prisons and to be able to agree with the judiciary on a number of initiatives that the judiciary has proposed geared at easing the overcrowding and dealing with persons on remand and fast forwarding their trials. There was a wide ranging discussion all aimed at getting trials speedily and clear the congestion in the prison,” he told journalists outside the Court of Appeal where the more than two-hour long meeting was held.
Chancellor of the Judiciary, Justice Carl Singh said the meeting was able to identify ways in which the work of the court could impact the situation and circumstances and how prison operations could be affected by what is done in the court.
The Judiciary has always been faced with an enormous backlog of cases; a problem that recently appointed acting Chief Justice Yonette Cummings Edwards said she will be tackling.
Last year, the Chancellor, during an interview with Guyana Times, said that backlog of cases was not unique to Guyana, but was an issue which presents itself in judiciaries across the world.
Similar sentiments were expressed by University of London Law Professor Jenny Hamilton who stated that the challenges which arise as a result of having to deal with a backlog of cases in the judiciary and a relatively slow justice system are not unique to Guyana or the wider Caribbean.
“I think this is an issue that is not peculiar to Guyana. It affects just about every other country in the world. In the United Kingdom, there are similar issues about access to justice, the speed of the courts and there was a very influential reforms programme which commenced in the UK to address these,” Hamilton said.
But the acting Chancellor pointed out that Guyana has made significant inroads over the years as it relates to the rate of hearings and disposal, especially for criminal matters. He noted that judges work at a level pace according to their performance and capabilities but some display greater capacity to complete cases in record time than others. The backlog of criminal cases number hundreds.
On the other hand, the Chancellor outlined that the backlog of civil cases stands somewhere around 3000 to 4000.
The early morning unrest at the Georgetown claimed the lives of 17 prisoners – one of whom died at the Georgetown Public Hospital while the other bodies were recovered among debris in the jailhouse. Authorities believe the prisoners died as a result of suffocation from inhaling thick smoke.
The Camp Street Prison was built to accommodate 600 prisoners however to date close to 1000 inmates are being housed. There were 68 prisoners in the Capital A Division, the area where the fire started.