Specialized interview and virtual hearing rooms opened at Leonora and Wales Magistrate's Courts
As part of partnership between the Supreme Court of Guyana and UNICEF
GEORGETOWN, 13 JULY 2021 – Two specially equipped rooms to facilitate recording of interviews with domestic violence survivors in safety and comfort and which will also allow for such cases to be heard virtually, were opened on 12 July 2021 at the Leonora and Wales Magistrate’s Courts. The facilities are a joint initiative of the Supreme Court of Guyana and UNICEF.
UNICEF Representative Nicolas Charles Pron joined Chancellor of the Judiciary, Justice Yonette Cummings-Edwards, Chief Justice Roxane George-Wiltshire, other senior judiciary officials, and Commissioner of Police Nigel Hoppie to launch the facilities, which will ensure that the rights of survivors of domestic abuse are protected and easier access to justice. UNICEF provided funding support as part of the organization’s multi-year investment to prevent and respond to violence against children and women in Guyana. UNICEF has committed to supporting the establishment of two additional facilities in the near term.
Chancellor Cummings-Edwards, in her address, highlighted that there have been sensitization and awareness training on domestic violence and to put the training into action, there must be facilities to complement. “There must be facilities in place for victims or survivors to report and give their evidence and to be assured of an environment that does not create injustice when they seek justice,” said the Chancellor. “The intent behind these facilities would be for the victims, instead of going into the court offices or going into the courtroom, they will come to the interview rooms and our staff will be present there and if needs be, any probation or social worker, and there they can make their application for whatever protective order…they are seeking.”
The Chancellor added that as it relates to court cases, rather than having to face the public or the perpetrator, domestic violence survivors can have their matters heard from the same facility virtually. She highlighted that the courts have seen an increase in domestic violence matters during the COVID-19 pandemic. “To eradicate this ill from our culture and even to curb the behaviour associated with the infliction of domestic violence and abuse, UNICEF has collaborated with the Supreme Court to have interview rooms and virtual hearing rooms that are secured, private, comfortable and away from the glare and the stare of the perpetrator and even members of the public,” Chancellor Cummings-Edwards said.
UNICEF Representative Pron, meantime, highlighted, that the opening of the facilities is a great stride forward in protecting the rights of survivors of domestic abuse and ensuring access to justice. “I hope that these interview rooms will give survivors, including children, greater confidence that their rights will be protected, and justice served. The judiciary is one of our strongest partners in ensuring the rights of children and women are protected. We are heartened by their commitment and drive to ensure that every child is able to grow up in a world free of violence,” said Pron.
Chief Justice George-Wiltshire highlighted the importance of ensuring that survivors are not revictimized. “Court customers who interface with our judicial system for domestic violence and family court cases come to our courts because in many instances they are experiencing trauma. It is incumbent on us to be able to empathize with and not revictimize or retraumatize these persons…To respond effectively we need to do so in a confidential and comfortable environment so we have seen the need to have rooms dedicated to domestic violence cases,” the Chief Justice said. She pointed out that at the newer magistrate’s courts, such facilities are in place but not in the older courts. “Once again our committed and trusted partner UNICEF has collaborated with us in funding and ensuring this new initiative is up and running,” the Chief Justice added.
Meanwhile, Commissioner Hoppie welcomed the initiative and noted that the police are also taking action to ensure that the rights of survivors of domestic violence are safeguarded. “…it is with great pleasure therefore that I note that this provision of a conducive atmosphere for the effective dealing with domestic violence by the legal system is today being taken a step further through the provision of separate rooms in two magistrate’s courts where victims can now make their applications and give their testimony virtually and privately. This is additional proof of the intention to forge ahead with the strengthening of capacity to deal with domestic violence in our country,” said the police commissioner.
The new facilities are part of UNICEF’s multi-year investment to prevent and respond to violence against children and women. In recent years, UNICEF has supported specialized services such as the Sexual Offences Courts, the Family Court, the Children’s Court and programmes such as the Child Advocacy Centres and Community Advocates Programmes, with State and NGO partners. This year, under the Spotlight Initiative to eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls, and with the Ministry of Human Services and Social Security, UNICEF is working in the area of policy and legal reforms, including reviewing the legislation on Domestic Violence and costing the Plans of Action for Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence.
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