Guyana was the first in the Caribbean to establish a specialised courtroom for the handling of sexual offences cases. On November 13, 2017, the Sexual Offences Court in Georgetown was launched. Two years later, in 2019, similar courtrooms in Berbice and Essequibo were established.
To mark the third anniversary of the Sexual Offences Court in Georgetown, the Judiciary of Guyana released statistics covering the courts in each county. According to the information, from 2017 to present, 131 sexual offences cases have been tried in all three counties.
Convictions totalled 61 with 47 guilty verdicts and 12 guilty pleas. There were 40 not guilty verdicts, 18 hung juries, 18 acquittals and four aborted cases.
In some cases, the accused who appeared before the court was indicted for more than one count of the offence, thus having a conviction for a count or counts and or an acquittal or acquittals for the other.
Sentences for such convictions ranged from the minimum of four years’ imprisonment to the maximum of a life sentence. The offences for which trials were conducted included rape, rape of a child under 16, sexual activity with a child family member and carnal knowledge.
The total number of cases for each offence is as follows: rape 34; rape of a child under 16, 56; sexual activity with a child family member 35; and carnal knowledge, four. From 2017-2020 the victims in the above categories were predominantly females, accounting for 122 and the remaining nine were males.
The ages of the victims ranged from one-year-old being the youngest to 77 years old being the oldest. The Sexual Offences Court in Georgetown has seen the bulk of these cases, followed by Berbice and then Essequibo.
However, the idea of having a Sexual Offences Court in all three counties came about due to the significant increase of sexual offences cases being heard before the courts.
The Judiciary noted that it realised the need to have a resolution of these sensitive matters in a safe atmosphere for its survivors while ensuring fair but speedy trials.
In 2010, the Sexual Offences Act was enacted and as its long title suggests, it is an Act to reform and consolidate the laws relating to sexual offences and to provide for related matters. The Act made provisions for the establishment of a Sexual Offences Court and thus the first specialised court was delivered to Guyanese in 2017.
The Georgetown Sexual Offences Court, the oldest and blueprint for the two other courts in Berbice and Essequibo, was opened by Chancellor of the Judiciary Justice Yonette Cummings-Edwards on November 13, 2017.
The Judiciary, upon recognising that victims can be re-victimised through a trial, took necessary steps to protect sexual offences survivors and to avoid secondary victimisation of persons. The court was outfitted with a special measures room from which survivors can testify via video link to the court without fear or intimidation from the accused or anyone in the courtrooms.
Apart from this survivor protection detail, the courtroom was equipped with a recording system for faster production of transcripts and monitors for video conferencing. On May 5 and September 16, 2019, the Judiciary officially opened the Berbice and Essequibo Sexual Offences Courts respectively.
The courts were established through a collaboration between the Supreme Court of Judicature Guyana, UNICEF, Social Protection Ministry and the Jurist Project, all long-standing partners of the court. Funding for these modern, survivor-friendly courtrooms was donated by UNICEF.