SINCE being elected to office on August 2, 2020, the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) Government has embarked on a rigorous agenda to transform Guyana’s archaic legal sector through overruling outdated legislation and crafting a modern legal architecture.
Attorney-General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Anil Nandlall, who leads the charge on this front, commenced a manhunt against errant contractors who committed flagrant breaches of their terms of contract and persons involved in fraudulent conveyances, among other matters.
He has also been at the helm of a number of litigations such as the elections petition, which he has triumphantly advocated.
Considering what occurred and what was observed during the five months following the March 2, 2020, General and Regional Elections, the Attorney-General is adamant that the legal and administrative screws that are loose will be tightened to ensure that attempts at electoral fraud are dealt with condignly and that constitutional reform is pursued.
In January, 2021, Nandlall was appointed Chairman of the Constitutional Reform Committee of the National Assembly, which is expected to steer constitutional reform.
Headed by Justice of Appeal B.S. Roy, the Law Reform Commission, which is expected to conduct a law revision exercise and modernise the laws so that they will be up to date, was also appointed subsequent to reforms to the Law Reform Act receiving Presidential Assent on February 16, 2021.
With Guyana now extracting “light sweet crude,” it was no surprise when, in November, 2020, the Attorney-General disclosed that his office was working on a comprehensive legal framework for the petroleum sector, to meet the challenges that will emerge within the legal sector.
The government foresees a number of issues which it is already working on, including, but not limited to, legislative framework, dispute resolution, human resources, inclusive of legal personnel, and changes to the commercial landscape.
Amendments to the Petroleum Act is ongoing, so new legislation would mean a new jurisprudence, and in the event of a violation of the legislation, the judiciary should be properly equipped to deal with such matters. To this end, judges will be trained to interpret legal principles never embraced before, and new concepts of law never dealt with before.
The adversarial court system is usually a last resort option for the commercial industry; therefore, the government will be seeking to implement schemes of Alternative Methods of Dispute Resolution (ADR), and legislation to facilitate same. The ministry has already engaged the services of retired Justice of the Supreme Court of Belize, Courtney Abel, to undertake the task of upgrading Guyana’s existing arbitration legislation and make recommendations on developing the country into an arbitration empire.
Nandlall had said that every conceivable area of economic activity will be targetted for legal reform and went on to list a gamut of legislation that his office was working on. Pertaining to the oil and gas sector, he disclosed that an international consultant will be retained by the government to draft a range of legislation governing that sector.
In the health sector, some 25 pieces of legislation have been identified for reform, namely a new Public Health Act, a new Mental Health Act, Tissue Transplant legislation, and a Food and Drug Act. The agriculture sector will see legislation dealing with the exportation of agricultural products, as well as the enactment of a Food Safety Act and a Food Security Act.
In the commercial sector, in addition to the Hire Purchase Bill which is currently before the Select Committee, an Anti-Dumping Bill, a Movable Property Security Bill and an E-Transactions Bill are currently being drafted.
The Procurement Act will be reviewed to strengthen the public procurement process and to create a more level playing field in order to accommodate small contractors.
In the housing and hospitality sector, a regiment of legislation dealing with zoning, urban planning, condominiums and town houses will be implemented. Local government will also see the enactment of a Solid Waste Management Bill.
RAFT OF LEGISLATION
The legal sector will also be revamped with a raft of legislation that will be promulgated, including the new Arbitration Bill, a new Juvenile Justice Bill, a Bail Bill, and Sentencing Guidelines.
Nandlall also tabled changes to the Police Act, the Evidence Act, among others, at the 28th Sitting of the 12th Parliament, which are intended to modernise Guyana’s approach to crime fighting, and using contemporary and scientific methods of investigation that will inevitably boost the State’s prosecutorial capacity.
In June, 2021, Nandlall was elected Chairman of the Parliamentary Special Select Committee dealing with the proposed amendments set out in the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Control Amendment Bill 2021. With Guyana poised to take its place on the map as a top tourism destination, in keeping with the developments consequent to the oil & gas sector which saw hotel giants like Hyatt Hotels and Resorts, Radisson Hotels, and the Hilton Hotels and Resorts coming to Guyana, in January, 2021, Nandlall announced that plans are on stream to draft new legislation to guide Guyana’s hospitality sector.
To better and more effectively manage criminal litigation, the Legal Affairs Ministry is currently working along with the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) office, the Guyana Police Force, the Guyana Prison Service and the Judiciary to create a joint Management Information System.
The expansion of the Chambers of the DPP to accommodate more prosecutors, as the limited space is currently a restriction on doing so, is budgeted for in Budget 2021.
The Ministry of Legal Affairs also kick-started the US$8 million Inter-American Development Bank (IDB)-funded Support for the Criminal Justice System Programme. Through this programme, there is a plan to allow Bachelor of Laws (LLB) graduates from the University of Guyana and other recognised universities to become prosecutors at the magistracy level.
Also, as part of the $4.6 billion budgeted for the Justice Sector in Budget 2021, is the construction of new magistrate’s courts with living quarters and supporting facilities at Port Kaituma, Mabaruma, Vigilance and along the East Bank of Demerara corridor.
In December, 2020, with the aim to restore and increase access to fair court hearings, within a reasonable time, containers at the Lusignan Prison barracks at the Cecil Kilkenny Training College on the East Coast of Demerara were retrofitted into 14 courtrooms that will enable virtual hearings of cases, amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
In March, 2021, Nandlall also announced that probation officers and teachers will eventually be trained on restorative justice, to ensure that there is less imprisonment since such punishment has not been a deterrent to crime. Consequent to a number of fraudulent conveyances being executed, the Attorney-General also announced that he was examining ways to strengthen legislation to protect property owners from fraud; he has already embarked on making the Official Gazette more accessible.
Nandlall also announced that he will resume the printing and publishing of the local law reports, better known as the Guyana Law Reports.
In April, 2021, Nandlall commissioned a $92 million living quarters for judicial officers in Berbice.
During the year, he also held various engagements with a number of stakeholders on various issues arising in a gamut of sectors. He met with Dental Council of Guyana to discuss a revision of the Dental Registration Act 1966 and Medical Council of Guyana to discuss an overhauling of the Medical Practitioners Act 1991 and the Code of Conduct and Standards of Practice Regulations 2008. He also met with High Commissioner of Canada to Guyana, Mark Kevin Berman, to discuss ways to strengthen the bilateral partnership in the legal sector; a delegation from the European Union (EU) Election Observer Mission where he discussed commitment in relation to electoral reform and representatives from the American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham) to discuss issues relating to the importation of goods.
Some other noteworthy initiatives are the ‘Cotton Tree Land Titling Project’ which will see over 1,000 residents of that locality gaining ownership of land, and assisting some 53 families of Enterprise, East Coast of Demerara who purchased lands some 20 years ago to finally receive their Certificates of Title.