…81% never told of entitlement to lawyerBy Jarryl BryanThe recently conducted Citizen Security Strengthening Programme (CSSP) prison survey was designed to let the prisoners have their say and they indeed had their say, with the report documenting several complaints about Guyana’s criminal justice system.A major complaint from the prisoners was their civil and human rights not always being respected as detainees. For starters, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB)-funded report documented that most prisoners – 81 per cent – are not informed about their rights to a lawyer when they are initially detained.According to the report, some 42 per cent of inmates reported not even having a lawyer. In cases where they did have lawyers, the prisoners had concerns over the quality of defence their case received.The report raises questions about the civil rights afforded to prisoners“Four out of 10 inmates, 40.5 per cent, who had at least one lawyer thought that their lawyers defended them ‘very poorly’; 15.6 per cent or ‘poorly’, 24.9 per cent. Almost one third of the inmates, 29.5 per cent, had never spoken to the Judge directly and 43.3 per cent said that they understood ‘little’ or ‘very little’ about what was happening at the hearings and in courts,” the report adds.Public defenceBesides these issues, the report also documented that there is limited access to public defenders. According to the report, only 14.3 per cent of inmates who were afforded a lawyer attested to having had a public defender.“Seven out of 10, 77.4 per cent, had hired a private lawyer. In this scenario, a positive issue is that only a very low level of corruption among criminal justice personnel was found. In general terms, nine out of 10 inmates said that no public official had asked them for money or belongings from the time of their arrest until their sentence,” the report states. Last year, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Rights of the Child Commission, Amar Panday had been reported as saying that 90 per cent of children at holding centres countrywide were denied legal representation.According to Panday, this was the case with juvenile residents at holding centres who were awaiting trial before the courts. He had revealed that a proposal was made for a public offender’s office that would provide legal representation to children and vulnerable sections of society.Guyana currently has the Legal Aid clinic, which is a non-governmental, non-profit making organisation. Open since 1994, it has provided legal aid to individuals though the majority of those benefiting have been women.
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