Vestiges of a Dutch legal system remain, particularly in the area of land tenure. However, the common law of Britain is the basis for the legal system of Guyana. The judiciary consists of a magistrate's court for each of the ten regions and a Supreme Court consisting of a High Court and a Court of Appeal. The 1980 constitution established the judiciary as an independent branch of the government with the right of judicial review of legislative and executive acts.
The constitution secures the tenure of judicial officers by prescribing their age of retirement (sixty-two or sixty-five), guaranteeing their terms and conditions of service, and preventing their removal from office except for reasons of inability or misconduct established by means of an elaborate judicial procedure. These constitutional arrangements are supplemented by statutory provisions that establish a hierarchy of courts through which the individual under scrutiny may secure enforcement of his civil and political rights.
The lower courts, known as magistrates' courts, have jurisdiction in criminal cases and civil suits involving small claims. The High Court has general jurisdiction in both civil and criminal matters. Criminal cases are always tried by a jury of twelve persons. Appeals of High Court rulings go to the Court of Appeal.
Any person in Guyana has the right to bring charges involving a breach of criminal law. In practice, the police as the official law enforcement body generally institute and undertake criminal prosecutions. Traditionally, the attorney general (a cabinet-level minister) exercises supervisory authority over all criminal prosecutions.
The executive president appoints all judges, with the exception of the chancellor of the High Court (the head of the judiciary), the chief justice of the Court of Appeal, and the chief magistrate. The Judicial Service Commission appoints these top three judges; however, the commission itself is selected by the president. Although selection of the members of the Judicial Service Commission is supposed to be made with opposition input, in fact the opposition has no say in judicial appointments. Observers have noted that trials are generally fair, but if a guilty verdict is reached, the executive president often drops strong hints concerning the magnitude of the sentence he expects for crimes that have received national publicity.
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