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Guyana Launches Pilot Paralegal Program

This article originally appeared in The Guyana Times

June 17, 2012

The government of Guyana recognises and understands the importance of an effectively functioning justice system and, has remained unwavering in its commitment to do all that is necessary to ensure that this fundamental system not only fulfils its mandate in an efficient manner but, is also accessible to all Guyanese irrespective of race, religion, geographic location, political affiliation or economic status.

Against this backdrop, the Legal Affairs Ministry in partnership with the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) has launched a pilot paralegal programme in Lethem, Region Nine.

The paralegal system is a way of improving access to justice; whereby ordinary residents are enlightened about their legal rights so as to ensure that they get just solutions whenever there is a dispute. On what was his first visit to the region in his capacity as attorney general and legal affairs minister, Anil Nandlall officially launched the programme at the Conference Room of the Savannah Inn.

He said government has a particular vision with regards to where it wants the country and its people to be. In this vision, the justice system is an important foundation on which the country’s civility rests, where people turn for the settlement of disputes, and is the institution that overlooks and scrutinises all facets of society including government itself to ensure that obligations are fulfilled in accordance with the laws of Guyana.

“When the people of a country are denied access to that fundamental system then a whole host of problems befall that society. There is economic stagnation, lack of intellectual growth, lack of social movement and every facet of human life comes to a standstill,” Nandlall said.

He explained that far too often, delays, which are perhaps one of the major afflictions within the system, in the process of justice administration have resulted in litigations losing their worth.
For this reason, government has had to devise other strategies to expedite the process of justice administration, one of which is mediation, which was started a few years ago. It is a process whereby all legal principles are put aside, and parties are given the opportunity to vent their frustration and give their perspective on an issue of conflict in the presence of a trained mediator. They will then be engaged in discussions so as to find amicable solutions that would be accepted by both parties.

This system of mediation has now been incorporated into the formal legal system. It commenced in Georgetown and will be taken to Berbice and Essequibo and subsequently, other parts of Guyana.
The paralegal programme that was launched is yet another such initiative. However, this one has an additional component enshrined in it; whereby, ordinary citizens are educated about their rights and obligations and they are even directed forward to a mechanism to solve some of the problems that are resulting amongst them.

“If you don’t understand your rights, obligation and duties which the law places upon you, then you would not have an appreciation of how the legal system works and what it can and cannot give you; therefore you are likely to be misled by lawyers who would give you legal representation not because they believe in the justice of your cause but because they see an opportunity to earn,” Minister Nandlall explained.

Meanwhile, Minister within the Finance Ministry Juan Edghill in his remarks pointed out that Guyana is rapidly developing, and as such, there is need to strengthen institutions and roll out new initiatives to meet the developmental expectations.

He called on residents to endorse the programme, which is bringing justice in an informal and expeditious way to communities to ensure that their interests are best served. There are three components of the Justice Sector Modernisation Programme, which is being coordinated by Justice Claudette Singh.

The first component is being implemented at the cost of US$4.7 million and entails the strengthening of the Judicial Service Commission, reducing the backlog in cases, enhancing court administration and skills and productivity of judges and magistrates, rehabilitation of court houses, improving criminal justice, institutional strengthening of the Legal Affairs Ministry, drafting criminal and procedural laws and improving criminal and other civil law procedures.

The second component which is being done at the cost of US$1.2 million is aimed at strengthening the linkages among justice institutions and promoting more efficient interactions.

Meanwhile, the third component is related to improving access to justice; ensuring that it is not delayed or denied. It entails the expansion of legal aid services, development of public legal awareness, support for informal justice (paralegal programme), and the law revision and legislative framework. Approximately US$2 million is being expended to implement this component.

June 17, 2012 | Namati

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