The Provincial Court of B. C. is playing a role in an important project undertaken by the Justice Education Society of B.C. (JES) in Guyana. Funded by the government of Canada, the project’s goal is to strengthen the criminal justice system in that South American country.
Guyana is a small Commonwealth country with a population of about 800,000, located on the north coast of South America. Its legal system follows the British tradition. Its Magistrates Court has criminal law responsibilities similar to those of our Provincial Court.
The criminal justice system in Guyana faces overwhelming demands. Police investigators, prosecution authorities and the judiciary struggle to address significant challenges. Victim services, legal aid, restorative and rehabilitative opportunities are all limited. Opportunities for training and continuing education for all participants in the justice system are also very limited.
JES provides many innovative programs and resources designed to improve access to justice in B.C. But it also has extensive experience in projects to strengthen justice systems in other countries facing challenges similar to those in Guyana. Dr. Nicole Giles, the Canadian High Commissioner to Guyana, was familiar with the work of the JES in Central America. In January 2015 she recommended that JES be invited to assess whether its particular expertise and methods could assist the Guyanese to address the challenges their justice system faces.
JES Executive Director Rick Craig and Provincial Court Judge Michael Hicks travelled to the Guyanese capital Georgetown. They met with representatives of the judiciary, police investigating agencies, the national forensic lab, police prosecutors who conduct virtually all of the prosecutions in the Magistrates Court, the Director of Public Prosecutions who oversees all criminal prosecutions, legal aid, and other civil society organizations. They conducted a three day workshop with representatives of these agencies. Through this process participants were able to identify priority issues and agree on a concept to address them using the JES methodologies.
The concept led to a proposal for funding that has since been approved by the Canadian government. Importantly, the project has the strong support of the Guyanese Minister of Public Security, the Chancellor of the Appeal Court , the Department of Public Prosecution, the Attorney General, and the senior leadership of the Guyana Police Force. The Chancellor of the Court of Appeal also participated in identifying priority concerns.
Photo credit Stephen Herman
The goal of the project, which will extend over two years, is to strengthen the confidence of the Guyanese people in their justice system by developing the technical capacity of the police, prosecutors and magistrates to work with criminal evidence. The project will focus on improving the investigation of crime, case preparation, evidence handling and management, trial advocacy, and case management in the Magistrates court. The project aims to elevate critical thinking skills and quality control at all stages.
In September this year a JES team headed by project manager Evelyn Neaman returned to Georgetown to begin development of the curriculum, to organize logistical requirements and to engage with government officials to discuss roles and responsibilities. The team included Judge Melissa Gillespie of the Provincial Court, experienced criminal prosecutor Sandra Cunningham, Q.C. and retired detective Patrick Phillips. Following this trip a detailed Memorandum of Understanding was signed between the Guyanese government and the JES.
Ms. Neaman and a team returned this month to formally launch the project, demonstrate specific JES programs to senior officials from the Guyana Police Force, begin training investigators in major case management and crime scene management, and donate equipment and train new staff for a new specialized Forensic Video Analysis Unit . Vancouver lawyer Stephen Herman joined the team and began filming a new documentary on the project.
Ms. Neaman says, “While it is early to really know, from the initial support and commitment we have had from the Guyanese government, I would venture to say that this project has better than average odds of making an impact with police, prosecutors and magistrates, and ultimately for Guyanese citizens. The success of JES projects internationally relies on continuing engagement, mentoring, coaching, training of trainers, and follow up with participants throughout the life of the project.”
The Provincial Court looks forward to its involvement in this important work.
Photo credit Stephen Herman
To learn more about the Justice Education Society’s international work watch THE MOST VIOLENT PLACE ON EARTH, a video describing the Society’s work in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. And for more about the Society see www.justiceeducation.ca.