…Chancellor, DPP attribute success to Sexual Offences Court
CONVICTION rates of persons indicted for sexual offences have increased with establishment of the Sexual Offences Court, according to Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Shalimar Ali-Hack and Chancellor of the Judiciary (ag.), Justice Yonette Cummings-Edwards.
In the June 2019 Assizes for Demerara alone, Ali-Hack related that there are 177 cases for sexual offences, out of a list of 301 cases. Of those 177 sexual offence cases, 126 are for children, either sexual activity (no penetration) or rape (penetration).
The Sexual Offences Act of 2010 stated that a sexual offence is any sexual violation on an individual that includes rape, and any other form of sexual assault, such as touching or causing the complainant to touch a third party in a sexual way. In 2017, the DPP noted that the sexual offence cases, on average, comprised about 55 per cent of the cases listed. In 2018 it was an average of 60 per cent of the cases listed; and in 2019 an average 55 per cent of the cases to be heard.
For these cases however, the DPP noted that there were varying conviction rates which have been increasing over the years.
For 2017, there was an average 10 per cent conviction rate; for 2017, there was an average 25 per cent conviction rate and in 2018, there was an average of 60 per cent conviction rate,” she highlighted. And so far, for 2019, there has been a 32 per cent conviction rate for Demerara; a 12.5 per cent for Berbice; and 0 per cent conviction rate for Essequibo.
“We were able to move from a two per cent conviction rate in Demerara, in 2016, and 27 per cent (conviction rate) in 2017, to a whopping a 62.2 per cent in 2018 with the advent of the Sexual Offences court,” the DPP highlighted.
Ali-Hack also noted that since the sexual offences legislation was passed, there has been a large increase in the number of cases being reported to the police, investigated by the police and prosecuted. Section 44 of the Seuxual Offences Act provides for the establishment of a Sexual Offences Court. In October 2017, the first such court was established in Georgetown. In April of this year, another was established in Berbice, and there should be the establishment of yet another Sexual Offences Court at Suddie, on the Essequibo Coast.
According to Chancellor of the Judiciary (ag.) Justice Yonette Cummings-Edwards, this specialised court is equipped with the necessary measures to protect the affected person from the accused persons, or from other persons in court; it comprises a special-measures room; and even waiting room facilities for the victim to be comfortable when giving evidence.
“The aim of the sexual offences court is to ensure that it is conducive to victims,” she said at a forum on sexual violence held on Thursday night. The chancellor also highlighted that the system has integrated a committal system, whereby the witness would not have to give statements twice, thus preventing re-victimisation and experiencing the trauma again.
“Committal is done based on the statements that the witness would have provided to the police and this would tend to reduce and eliminate secondary trauma to victims and improve the case cycle time and the outcome of the case,” she said. “With those services, the benefits we can boast of are: faster disposal rates of the cases, from the time the case is reported to the time of trial or disposition; increase in the amount of cases heard; increased conviction rates and specialised services for the victim.”
Previously, the chancellor had made known that since November, 2017 to March, 2019, there have been 53 sexual offence cases tried in the Georgetown Sexual Offences Court. Of the 53 cases tried, there have been 33 convictions and 20 acquittals.
The offences for which trials were conducted include seven rape cases, 21 cases related to the rape of a child under 16-years-old, 15 cases of sexual activity with a family member and one carnal knowledge case. And from the total of 53 cases, 41 were females and three males.
PROTECTION OF CHILDREN
As related by Cummings-Edwards, these courts have adopted a “rights-based” approach to providing justice to the victims. This is particularly important since a majority of the victims are vulnerable persons, i.e. women and children.
In fact, at the same forum, Director of the Child Care and Protection Agency Anne Green noted that the number of reported cases for child sexual abuse for 2018 was 980.
Green highlighted that in 2014, Child Advocacy ‘One Stop’ centres were launched, aiming to work with law enforcement and other key governmental stakeholders and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) to conduct interviews and make key decisions about investigation, treatment, management and prosecution of child-abuse cases.
“The concept of the centres is to have the child victims come only once to a special room and provide the necessary evidence for an investigation team… who have the opportunity to conduct an appropriate interrogation of the child and perform psychological and forensic assessments on the spot, and follow up with the child and family,” she explained.
The reason for this is because sexual violence can have a long-lasting impact on the victims, leaving them traumatised for much of their lives. It is for this reason that these cases must be given specialised and due diligence.