The Supreme Court of the Judicature was today given another “thumbs up” for progressively moving the justice system forward, with the establishment of the third Sexual Offences Court in the County of Essequibo.
Following closely behind the Demerara and Berbice counties, the $17.4M facility at the Suddie Supreme Court has received funding from the British High Commission of Guyana and the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF).
Under the leadership of Chancellor of the Judiciary (ag), Justice Yonnette Cummings-Edwards, victims or survivors of sexual violence in the “Cinderella” county have been given a haven to testify without fear of secondary trauma.
According to Justice Cummings-Edwards, the justice system was virtually failing victims of sexual violence, who were before exposed to a hostile system.
“What you are about to see here in the sexual offences court and the special measures room, will tell you that we have come a long way in ensuring that victims are able to give their evidence in such a comfortable and dignified way to ensure that justice is done,” she told the huge gathering of Judges, lawyers and prosecutors.
Minister of Social Protection, Hon. Amna Ally said in less than three years Guyana has been able to establish three separate specialised courts within the three counties.
She said the scourge of sexual violence in Guyana and the need for robust interventions for specialised infrastructural requirements in courts for victims of sexual violence, was something that could no longer be overlooked by the judicial system.
The minister said the government has a responsibility of ensuring that every Guyanese, including victims of sexual violence, have faith in the legal system.
“The idea of a specialised court is to re-establish trust in the system, to show that the system can adapt, and victims can rely on trained individuals who understand the particulars of sexual violence… We must be able to tell victims, you are heard, and it’s our job to adapt the system to their complex reality, rather than they being forced to adapt to the system itself.”
Deputy British High Commissioner to Guyana, Ray Davidson said institutions such as the sexual offences court will make a difference.
“Establishments where fair trials can take place, which allow the survivor to put their ordeals forward in a controlled environment, where they are made to relive the horror once again,”.
Back in 2017, the first sexual offences court was opened at the Supreme Court in Georgetown. In May of this year, another such court was opened in Berbice.
UNICEF’s country representative, Sylvie Fouet said since the establishment of the court, the conviction rate has moved from ten to 60%.
She said the sexual offences courts now serve as a game-changer and hopes that all Guyanese will break the culture of silence.
The specialised court has a main courtroom, that will house the defence counsel, prosecutors and jurors. It has a closed-circuit system linked up to the special measures room, that will allow victims to give evidence without having to face the perpetrators