Women's Issues In Guyana

Failed judicial system aids rapists — GHRA

Posted in Judicial,Law Enforcement,Legislation by wiig on December 23, 2007
Tags: , , ,

Kaieteur News – December 23, 2007

During the course of 2007, the High Court trials of seventeen accused rapists could not proceed because the accused could not be found. Having been committed to the High Court following Preliminary Inquires, these cases had to be postponed, and they will probably have to be abandoned.

The Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA) describes this state of affairs as an indictment of current approaches to bailing accused persons in rape and other serious sexual offences cases.

In a release, the organisation noted that these men accounted for half of a list of absconded accused published in the press by the Director of Public Prosecutions earlier this year.

The DPP was seeking the assistance of the public as to the whereabouts of these men.

Rather than a wake-up call for more stringent application of rules governing bail, the fact that sexual offences cases in the High Court are grinding to a halt appears to have had the opposite effect. Bail in such matters is now being granted more readily than ever, even when minors are involved, the GHRA noted.

It added that even without such high levels of absconding making a mockery of the bail system, too many bail applications are ignoring the relationships of the accused to the victims.

Interference (with victims and other family members), threats and offers to settle are rife.

“Some bail approvals are beyond belief : during this year, a West Coast Demerara Magistrate granted bail to a 28-year-old male accused of raping a 13-year-old girl. The same Magistrate bailed a 28-year-old man accused of raping a 12-year-old, despite objections from the police based on the problems they had in finding him.

A Corentyne Magistrate bailed three men involved in a gang rape of a 14-year-old, and a Georgetown Magistrate bailed an ex-policeman charged with raping two three-year-old baby girls.

A Georgetown Magistrate recently bailed a man charged with multiple sexual offences against young boys.

A New Amsterdam Magistrate roundly berated a Senior Probation Officer who had submitted a bail report in a rape/incest case as ‘having a personal grudge’ and being ‘too detailed’.

He demanded another report be prepared by another officer.”

The GHRA added that while these are the more bizarre instances of inappropriate bail decisions, others abound.

A more consistent bail policy is urgently needed, the GHRA stated, both to avoid making a mockery of the High Court and to ensure fair treatment of both the victim and the accused.

“The normal assurance advanced for bail, namely that the accused will be available for trial, can clearly no longer be relied on. This in itself should influence magistrates and judges (who grant bail on appeal from a magistrate’s decision) in a certain direction.”

Moreover, the body says, magistrates need more consistency with respect to bail. “In contrast to the examples cited earlier, another magistrate uniformly refuses bail to every rape accused, even when the police are not opposing it.

In exceptional cases, this approach works unnecessary hardship on the accused. In keeping with proposed reforms of the Sexual Offences Act, there should be a presumption of no bail in any rape cases”.

This presumption, it believes, should be applied uniformly to a number of charges, including incest and previous knowledge or relationship between the accused and the victim – (over two-thirds of all sexual offence) cases of carnal knowledge (sex with girls under 16 years of age) where the accused is more than three years older than the victim, in cases of serial rape, gang rape, where tampering with witnesses is a real possibility”

It stressed that no exceptions should be permitted with respect to the outlined procedures that manifest a definite bias and insensitivity against young female victims of sexual offences and a willingness to seize any opportunity to rigidly apply out-dated rules and practices.

Earlier this year, a magistrate jailed a 17-year-old victim who could not remember dates and other facts during her testimony, despite being advised she was a slow learner.

Only the intervention of a High Court judge led to her release. Juries tend not to believe young girls’ stories; some newspapers are not careful enough to hide identities of victims.”

The GHRA lamented that the rights of the accused are assiduously guarded and those of victims routinely abused.

These tendencies are being exaggerated now that a Legal Aid service is providing the accused in rape trials with defense counsel.

The prosecution service, in the meantime, currently operates with less than half of the prosecutors required for an effective service, all of whom are young, are recent graduates from law school, it said, adding that from a human rights point of view, the prosecution rather than the defense requires the services of legal aid lawyers, especially when the victims are minors.

Underlying the failure of the judicial system to protect girl victims of sexual assault is a more generalized negative attitude to young people by the adult population.

A significant and apparently growing segment of adults have an attitude that young people who play noisily in the street, dress in ways they frown on, and listen to awful music are juvenile offenders.

This attitude is reinforced, irrationally, when they see juveniles charged with murder and other violent crimes.

While most of this negativity is directed at boys, girls are increasingly stigmatized in the same way. We are, to some extent, becoming a nation fearful of its young people.

Combined with this ‘paedophobia’, adult society also reflects elements of a culture described in a recent international study in which “today’s girls prefer to look sexy than be clever, undermining girls’ sense of worth in their most vulnerable, formative years and glorifying destructive behaviour…… The overwhelming lesson teenagers are now learning from the world around them is that being “sexy” is the ultimate accolade, trumping intelligence, character and all other accomplishments at every stage of a woman’s life,…The new female imperative is that it is only through promiscuity and sexual aggression that girls can achieve admiration and recognition.…there’s scant recognition or respect for female modesty or achievement that isn’t coupled with sex appeal.…”

The GHRA’s major concern is that such negative images do a grave injustice to the vast majority of teenagers, in particular coarsening attitudes to young girls. Magistrates and judges’ decisions on bail are not impervious to these images.

As a result, girls and women victims of sexual offences continue to be traumatized by the thought that their perpetrators – among whom are the seventeen absconded rapists – are free to enforce the threats made to kill or maim them when they were being assaulted.

The GHRA hopes to raise a number of these issues with the newly-appointed Chief Justice in the new year.


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