Legal aid providers get training

A number of the attendees at the two-day training workshop hosted in collaboration with the Inter- American Development Bank (IDB); the Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs Basil Williams and his team from the Support for the Criminal Justice Program

OVER 78 legal aid providers have been trained by the Inter- American Development Bank (IDB) to better represent persons who cannot afford representation and are on remand for minor non-violent offences.

The two-day training workshop was made possible through Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Basil Williams, and his team from the Support for the Criminal Justice Programme.

The training recently took place at the Regency Suites Hotel and focused on the substantive and procedural issues for legal aid services. Specific emphasis was placed on the responsibilities of legal aid providers during investigations, arrest, pre-trial detention, bail hearings, trials, appeals and other proceedings to ensure that human rights are protected.

According to a release from the Legal Affairs Ministry, several agencies were represented at the training programme. They included Probation and Social Services, the Ministry of Social Protection, the Prison Service, the Ministry of Public Security, Office of the Director of Public Prosecution, Guyana Legal Aid Clinic, Nation’s University and the Department of Law at the University of Guyana.

“The Ministry intends to adopt a pro-active approach in providing support for those persons on remand for minor non-violent offences who cannot afford representation. This training is the first of many programmes to strengthen representation skills among aid providers,” the release stated.

Meanwhile, the Ministry announced that soon Guyana will see the setting up of a Community Service Order programme.
It will become an option of the court when it has decided that an offender is remorseful enough and that he/she is suitable to make restitution by constructive unpaid work in the community.

The release stated: “The objectives of community service, or, what a community service order hopes to achieve, involve the reintegration of the offender into the community by enforcing the discipline of positive and demanding unpaid work, ensuring that the work provides reparation to the community, making good the damage done by offending.

Moreover, a community service order may achieve a reduced risk of recidivism or repeat offending, and an increased chance of rehabilitating the offender to acceptable social standards.”
Meanwhile, 2019 promises to be a year of major improvements under the Legal Affairs Ministry.

In 2018, the Ministry completed an assessment of the Probation and Social Services Department and developed an action plan for strengthening this arm of the justice system.
In 2019, it will be refurbishing the Probation Office in Cornhill Street, and providing office equipment and technology for a fully functional office.

Furthermore, the provision of safety equipment and regularisation of the organisational structure of this unit are priority. Then, by August 2019, another training programme will be undertaken to develop staff of the Probation and Social Services Department to deal with individual cases and to provide the oversight required. These reforms are intended to align the Probation and Social Services Department with international best practices.
“The Ministry is starting its work for the implementation of case management systems in the Probation and Social Services Department, Office of the Director of Public Prosecution and Police Prosecutors, the Restorative Justice Office and Magistrates courts,” the document said.

“The Ministry is looking to have these systems connected to the High Courts, the Prison and Police. The vision of the Ministry is to allow agencies to be communicating so that decisions can be made speedily. This operation will allow for greater productivity. The Ministry hopes to complete these systems implementation by mid-2020.”

This year too, the ministry will be reviewing the draft Restorative Justice Act, guidelines for operations, and Policies and Procedures for Restorative Justice Practices. This will be coupled with a number of training activities for Restorative Justice Officers, various sensitisation activities and the initial setting up an office for Restorative Justice.

“Through the Support for the Criminal Justice Programme, the Ministry is championing the implementation of other interventions in its comprehensive work plan for the year 2019,” the Ministry said.

The Ministry is working on various pieces of legislation which will allow the proper use of alternative sentencing in Guyana. By the end of April, it will complete the review of the Summary Jurisdiction (Offences) Act Chapter 8:02 which will make provisions for wider use of alternative sentencing and, by the end of 2019, a Bail Act will be drafted.

Coming, too, are training activities on alternative sentencing, training for the Office of the Director of Public Prosecution and Police Prosecutors, training for Probation and Social Services Officers, training for Restorative Justice and Leadership training.

It stated: “These initiatives are all part of the Support for the Criminal Justice System’s effort to reduce the number of inmates on pre-trial detention and to increase the use of alternative sentencing.”