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(This column is intended to address commonly asked questions about the criminal justice process for defendants. We intend to explain the roles of the various persons at each stage in this process beginning with the arrest and questioning stage and concluding with further information and resources. We will also address how long you can be held in custody and other rights and responsibilities you should be aware of. This column in no way replaces your need to personally consult your attorney-at-law or your own readings on the existing law ( Prepared by Sparman and Small attorneys-at-law)
Your attorney-at-law/Legal Aid
As mentioned earlier you have the right of access to legal representation/advice which is supported by the constitution of Guyana. The police must inform you of this right when they take you into custody. An attorney-at-law/lawyer is sometimes referred to as counsel, and for the purposes of this booklet counsel for the defendant(s)/defence counsel(s). This person must be a legal professional who is called to the bar to practice law in Guyana or whichever jurisdiction you are to be legally represented. You may likely have to pay a fee for their legal expertise. However, if you are unable to pay a fee or you belong to a vulnerable group such as the groups of women, children and juveniles (children 14-17 years old) you may be entitled to access the services of Legal Aid.
What is Legal Aid?
Legal Aid is free or subsidized (partly paid for) legal assistance in the form of legal representation or legal advice. After you qualify for Legal Aid your case will be assigned to competent and experienced Attorney-at-law(s) who will become your defence counsel(s) during court hearing etc. Our Guyanese partner has noted from her legal aid work experience that legal aid access is not restricted to the above stated vulnerable groups. As such, you can verify whether you qualify for legal aid services by calling or visiting any of the Legal Aid Clinics/Centres throughout Guyana. More information as it relates to contacting Legal Aid will be provided at the end of this booklet.
Probation services generally provide psycho-social support to persons who are in the custody of the law. In simpler terms these services are geared towards the physical and mental wellness of these individuals. Specifically as it relates to juveniles, if a juvenile is arrested and held in custody awaiting his or her appearance in court, the arresting officer must, within 24 hours of the arrest, give a written notice to the parent of the juvenile and the Chief Probation Officer. Further, the court may refer the juvenile to the Chief Probation Officer for assessment at any stage of the proceedings to determine if he or she is in need of child welfare services. The court may also utilise probation officers to report the personal circumstances of these individuals, during court hearings, to determine the way forward. We will address probation orders later in the booklet.
Rights and Restrictions
The following are some of the rights of the defendants at this stage in the criminal law process:
1. Right to be informed of the reason(s) for arrest
2. Right to inform a third party (responsible friend/family) that you were arrested
3. Right to access legal representation
4. Right to not answer self-incriminating questions
5. Right to request reasonable bail
6. Right to humane treatment, including the right to request food from outside of custody(at your own expense)
7. Right to request medical assistance
8. Right to have your consulate or embassy contacted if you are a foreign national
9. Right NOT to be tortured or subjected to cruel/degrading punishment while in custody.
10. Right NOT to be subjected to violence nor threats during police interrogation (questioning)
11. Right to communicate freely and in full confidentiality with counsel or visiting authorities
12. Right to make a request or complaint regarding treatment
13. Right to be brought promptly before a judicial officer(Magistrate/Judge) after arrest and right to trial within a reasonable time
14. Right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty
Note that the above list of rights are not exhausted. As such, at the end of the booklet we will provide you with links to access more materials on this topic.
Restrictions while in lawful custody should not derogate from any of the human rights provisions supported by international and domestic laws, especially those stated above. There may be reasonable limits as to how long and how often you communicate, what and how much you eat, and how much personal belongings you are allowed to have while in custody. However, at this stage there should be no form of restriction that causes you to be completely isolated from the outside world, starved/underfed or mistreated. Therefore, forms of restrictions should be reasonable and appropriate in every circumstance. As previously stated, it is your right to make a complaint regarding treatment. You can lodge a complaint with a Senior Officer at the station, and you can also consult your attorney-at-law to assist you with lodging a complaint with the Police Complaints Authority and the Commissioner of Police in Guyana, or relevant authority if you are in another jurisdiction. You can also pursue private legal proceedings for redress after consulting your attorney-at-law.