As previously noted in an earlier contribution, the month of October marks the anniversary of the admission to practice of most Attorneys-at-Law who would have graduated from the Hugh Wooding Law School. For the author, as part of a group of nine attorneys-at-law admitted to practice in 1996, we recently gathered to celebrate twenty years at the Guyana and Caribbean Bar. Our October reflections surround, not only what we would have achieved for ourselves, but also what we may have observed in the administration of justice, in Guyana in particular.
Twenty years of practice in Guyana has seen new Family Procedure Rules, the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) as our final Court of Appeal and improvements in the infrastructure of most courts. We have also not seen the appointment of Senior Counsel, we are likely to see new rules of court, technology has not made its full impact, and after years of discussion we have seen the commencement of night sittings of the Magistrate’s Courts in Georgetown. There are no expressed reflections on the glacier-like pace of change in the legal system, save to acknowledge that with the constant increase in temperatures in Guyana, the pace of change may increase. This contribution discusses a recent introduction to the administration of justice in Guyana, the night court. It proceeds to address the reality, make a few respectful suggestions followed by a short conclusion.
The reality of night court; is here, sittings officially commenced on the 10th October, 2016. For those of us who were sufficiently cognizant in the 80’s and 90’s, the words ‘night court’ cause an immediate mental reference to a television situation comedy which bore a similar name. For those of a younger generation, Google and Youtube provide useful sources of information on the situation comedy.
The linkages between legal practice and television have always been present with varying impacts. There are the old shows of Perry Mason, Matlock, L.A. Law which were present in the 1990’s. Leading to the current wide menu of shows would have been shows such as Boston Legal, the Practice and Ally McBeal, to name at least three. The current crop of shows include: Suits, Conviction, Bull, and How to Get Away With Murder. There are even complete television networks devoted to court, demonstrating Court presided over by judges deciding real cases for a television audience. You may not remember the faces but you may know the names: Judge Judy, Judge Brown, Judge Mathis, etc.
With the label of a situation comedy, which ran for over 200 episodes, what are we likely to see from the night court in Guyana? There is a cardinal rule of cross-examination, never ask a question to which you do not know the answer. Though several questions arise, there are no questions posed here regarding the night court in Guyana at this time. The right to cross-examine is therefore reserved. There also exists the crude and cultured way of advancing one’s case to a witness. One is to say, “I suggest to you that ……” the other is, “I put it to …..” no further comment on which is which.
For the author, the following is respectfully suggested regarding the advent of the night court in Guyana.
Despite the portrayed glamour law and legal practice are not television satire. There are real players with real roles. We note the persons who have been selected to perform the roles of temporary magistrates. It is trusted that the hard work is exercised and recognized and that there is little slippage when moving between the bar and the bench;
There is nothing funny about the law and the delivery of justice, though there are many lawyer jokes and a few moments of humour depending on the Court and the Lawyer. Night court should not be seen as the platform for the humor which is characterised in the old and new television shows, despite the presence of a live (court as opposed to studio) audience;
Night court should not be another show to be cancelled after a few seasons of successful episodes, consideration may be given to more permanency in the framework;
Whatever is done in the dark eventually comes out in the light of day, not because it is night, justice must still be seen to be done as it ought to be done;
In the context of a labour market, there has been generally a difference between daytime rates and nighttime rates. Law being one of the oldest professions in the world, there should be an expectation of society to pay higher fees for nighttime service;
The television show Night Court launched the successful acting careers for members of its cast. Similar success may be possible in the Guyana context;
Change is indeed slow, but when it occurs it should be given the opportunity for develop momentum.
Time will be part of the verdict of the night court effort in Guyana, the word experiment was deliberately avoided. Whether reflection on twenty years or otherwise, the words of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow come to mind, “The heights by great men reached and kept were not attained by sudden flight, but they, while their companions slept, were toiling upward in the night”. As the night court has started its momentum, we will be watching.