Guyana Law and Legal Research

By Errol A. Adams

Errol A. Adams received his primary and secondary education in Guyana. He has a B.A. in Judicial Studies from John Jay College of Criminal Justice – a senior college of The City University of New York; a J.D. from Touro College Jacob D. Fuchsberg Law Center and a M.L.S. from St. John’s University. He is the Reference and Scholarly Services Librarian at the Maurice A. Deane School of Law at Hofstra University.

Published May/June 2020

1. Introduction to Guyana’s Law and Legal Research

This article outlines the various resources available for researching the laws and legal system of the Co-operative Republic of Guyana (Guyana). Please note that there are variations in the spelling of certain words as they are citations taken from sources that reference the word with its English spelling. According to JuriGlobe, Guyana follows a mixed legal system - a combination of Civil Law[1] & Common Law.See JuriGlobe - World Legal Systems, University of Ottawa.[2] As an introduction, here are key research websites for locating Guyana’s legal related information:

1.1. Background and History

Guyana was a Dutch colony in the 17th century, but became a British colony in 1815.[3] The abolition of slavery led to settlement of urban areas by ‘former slaves’ and the importation of indentured servants from India to work the sugar plantations.[4] The resulting ethnocultural divide has persisted and has led to turbulent politics.[5] Guyana achieved its independence from the United Kingdom on May 26, 1966.[6] On February 23, 1970, Guyana declared itself a "cooperative republic" and cut all ties to the British monarchy.[7] The head of state became the president, which replaced the governor general.[8]

Guyana is a member of the Caribbean community, both culturally and via trade agreements, even though it is located in northern South America. It borders the North Atlantic Ocean, between Suriname and Venezuela. It is the third-smallest country in South America after Suriname and Uruguay; Venezuela and Suriname have laid claim to substantial portions of its western and eastern territories; and it contains some of the largest unspoiled rainforests on the continent.[9]

Political and Legal Historical Resources

Basic Country Information Sources

2. Government Structure

Guyana is governed by three separate, but complementary, branches of government: the Legislature (National Assembly), the Executive (President, Cabinet and Government Departments) and the Judiciary (Courts).[10] The power to run the country is divided among the three branches to create a system of checks and balances.[11]

2.1. The Executive

The Executive branch governs Guyana.[12] The President is the Head of State, the supreme executive authority and the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Guyana.[13] The President appoints the Prime Minister and other Ministers and assigns responsibilities to them.[14] The Cabinet consists of the President, the Prime Minister and other Ministers appointed to it by the President.[15] It aids and advises the President in the general direction and control of the Government.[16] See the Ministry of the Presidency for more information.

2.2. The Legislature

The President is not a member of the National Assembly but has the power to attend and address the Assembly at any time.[17] The President has to assent to bills passed by the National Assembly before the bills become law.[18] The President of Guyana is the head of the executive branch, which exercises legislative power alongside the legislative branch, headed by the unicameral National Assembly (65 seats; 40 members directly elected in a single nationwide constituency and 25 directly elected in multi-seat constituencies - all by closed list proportional representation vote; members serve 5-year terms).[19]

2.3. The Judiciary

The Judiciary vests its authority in the courts.[20] The courts determine and interpret the law.[21] The courts are independent and impartial and subject only to the Constitution and the law.[22] The Chancellor of the Judiciary is the chief representative of the judicial authority.[23] The court structure consists of magistrate courts for civil claims of small monetary value and minor offenses; the Supreme Court that encompasses the High Court, with original and appellate jurisdiction in civil and criminal matters; the Full Court; and the Court of Appeal, with appellate authority in criminal cases.

Privy Council: The Privy Council is the final court of appeal for several Commonwealth countries, including Guyana (but only up until 2005), the crown dependencies and United Kingdom overseas territories.[24]

Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ): The CCJ is the Caribbean regional judicial tribunal established on February 14, 2001 by the Agreement Establishing the CCJ.[25] The agreement was signed on that date by the CARICOM states including Guyana.[26] The agreement establishing the CCJ came into force on July 23, 2003, and the CCJ was inaugurated on April 16, 2005 in Port of Spain, Trinidad & Tobago, and the Seat of the Court.[27]

The Supreme Courthas two divisions; the Court of Appeal and the High Court of the Supreme Court of Judicature (High Court).[28] In 2005, Guyana adopted the CCJ as its final court of appeal, replacing the Privy Council.[29] The Court of Appeal (established July 30, 1966), consists of a chancellor, the chief justice of the Supreme Court, and as many justices as the National Assembly may prescribe.[30] The chancellor of the Court of Appeal is the country's chief judicial officer.[31]

The High Court is the third-highest court in the country, above the Magistrates’ courts.[32] The High Court consists of the chief justice of the Supreme Court, 10 puisne justices and has both original and appellate jurisdiction.[33] There is provision in the law, for twelve judges of the High Court, however, the overall responsibility lies with the chief justice.[34] There is one High Court but judges hear cases in each county. [35] Most proceedings in the High Court are held before a single judge and who are assigned to both criminal and civil cases.[36]

The High Court hears claims exceeding $50,000. [37] This Court is also tasked with handling family law related matters including custody and adoption of children, divorce, injunctions; applications for probate and letters of administration as well as the passing of transports to land and mortgages, via a Land Court that is presided over by the Commissioner of Title. [38] Appeals from the Magistrates Court and the High Court are heard before the Full Court.[39] The Full Court is presided over by no less than two judges (High Court Judges). [40] Appeals of Full Court & High Court rulings are heard by the Court of Appeal.[41]

The Magistrates’ Courts are the largest in number.[42] Small criminal and civil matters are heard before them, e.g. cases of minor assault, petty theft, abusive language, landlord and tenant claims and claims for debts under $50,000.00.[43] There are magistrates’ courts in every county and most of the cases brought by the police and individuals are heard in them.[44] There are nine magisterial districts in Guyana.[45] Under Guyana’s Magistrates’ Act, magistrates may exercise jurisdiction in the area of Guyana that they are appointed. The jurisdiction of Magistrates extends to presiding over specialized courts, which are:

3. Parliament: Structure & Legal Documents

Under Article 51 of the Constitution of Guyana, Parliament consists of the President and the National Assembly. The National Assembly has 65 members elected using the system of proportional representation. The National Assembly of Parliament has the power to make laws for the peace, order and good governance of Guyana in accordance with its Constitution.

The Office of Parliament provides online access to bills, acts, laws, proceedings and other publications.

Other Publications

4. Constitution

The Constitution[46] is the supreme law of Guyana. It outlines the branches and powers of government, establishes qualifications and times for elections, lists basic human rights and sets up independent institutions to protect those rights.

In 1970, amendments were made to the Constitution proclaiming Guyana a Co-operative Republic and the British Monarch was replaced by a President as the head of state, elected for a fixed term. The 1980 Constitution identified the President as the Head of State and the Supreme Executive Authority and it also established a system of local democratic organs.

There have been 12 amendments to the 1980 Constitution, five of which were temporary in nature, to facilitate the 1992 national elections.

On December 1, 1994, the National Assembly passed a resolution which established the Special Select Committee to review the Constitution and directed it to present a proposal for its reform before the 1997 general and regional elections. The Select Committee first met in May 1996. Fifty public meetings across the 10 regions were convened by the Committee to solicit public participation in the reform process. Many written and oral submissions for constitutional reform were received from all sectors of society. The dissolution of Parliament on October 29, 1997 precluded the Special Select Committee from finishing its work.

An act of parliament established the Constitutional Reform Commission (Commission) in 1999. It successfully completed its tasks and submitted its report to the National Assembly by the due date of July 17, 1999. The Commission made 171 recommendations for constitutional amendments. All amendments, except for those requiring a referendum, were passed as Acts of Parliament.

5. Historical Legal Documents




Law Reports/Rules


US Policy Documents

6. Select Primary & Secondary Sources

6.1. Cases

Please note that this isn’t a comprehensive list.

6.2. Official Gazettes

6.3. Law Journals

6.4. Law Libraries in Guyana

6.5. Subscription Databases

7. Select Bibliographic Sources by Subject

7.1. Books


Criminal Law

History and Legal History of Guyana

7.2. Articles

Companies / Business

Gender & the Law

Indigenous/Native People

International Law Related

Intellectual Property

Legal Research

Law Systems


Law of Politics & Political Commentary


8. General News & Country Related Sources


Online Newspapers/e-Papers

Government News Sources

Television News Sources

9. Select Sources of Current Major Legal Topics

9.1. General Elections

9.2. Legal Education & Legal Profession

Bar Associations


9.3. Territorial Disputes

9.3.1. Venezuela & Guyana Dispute

The Dispute between Guyana and Venezuela over the Essequibo Region is a territorial dispute in which Venezuela claims 5/8 of Guyana in the western part of the country. [47]The dispute arose when Venezuela backed out of a 1899 treaty that settled the borders of the two countries.

Applicable Cases

9.3.2. Guyana & Surname Dispute

This case involved a dispute about the ocean boundaries between Guyana and Suriname, resulting in the case of Guyana v. Suriname, which was eventually settled (the court determined that as regards the delimitation of the continental shelf and the exclusive economic zone pursuant to Articles 74 and 83 of UNCLOS, there were no relevant circumstances requiring adjustment to the provisional equidistant line. Concerning the incidents in the disputed area, the Tribunal ruled that the Surinamese naval actions constituted a threat of use of force, contrary to international law, but denied Guyana’s request for monetary compensation. The Tribunal also found both parties to be in breach of their obligations under Articles 74(3) and 83(3) of UNCLOS, to make provisional arrangements of a practical nature pending delimitation).

Select Commentary on the Dispute:

9.4. The Jonestown Tragedy

The “Jonestown Massacre” occurred on November 18, 1978, when more than 900 members of an American cult called the Peoples Temple died in a mass suicide-murder under the direction of their leader Jim Jones (1931-78). It took place at the so-called Jonestown settlement in the South American nation of Guyana.

Selected Commentary

9.5. Oil Exploration – Energy Oil/Gas Law

The Petroleum (Exploration and Production) Act 1986 is applicable to the exploration, exploitation, conservation and management of petroleum existing in its natural condition in land in Guyana, including the territorial sea, continental shelf and exclusive economic zone of Guyana.

Applicable Treaties include:

Affiliated Oil/Gas Companies – After the 2015 oil discovery:


Additional Commentary

9.6. Environmental Law

Environmental Protection Agency



9.7. Intellectual Property Law

The Commercial Registry via the Deeds and Commercial Registry Authority ensures an adequate system for the administration of the laws enacted by Parliament relating to companies, business names, partnerships, bills of sale, trade unions, trademarks, patents, geographical indicator and copyright.

Deeds & Commercial Registry Act efficiently and expeditiously administer the laws enacted by Parliament affecting land, whether by way of transport, land registration, leases, mortgages or any other alienation thereof; as well as those laws relating to trademarks, patents, copyrights, trade unions, companies, partnership, business names, powers of attorney, contracts and other deeds.

Guyana’s applicable law in the trademark and patent area is the Trademark Act (Cap. 90:01) of 197.[48] Trademarks can be registered in Part A of the Guyana TM Register in respect of goods in Classes 1 to 34.[49] In addition, for services in Classes 35-45 in Part C only if they are registered in the United Kingdom and a certificate issued by the United Kingdom Patent.

WIPO, (World Intellectual Property Organization), Guyana, maintains information inclusive of participating treaties etc. on it member states WIPO, Guyana,

9.8. Labor law & Industrial Relations

Kaiteur News Editor, Government mulls establishment of Industrial Court – Several labor laws to be amended Kaiteur News, Dec. 7, 2018. – This article highlights major issues that require a change in Guyana’s labor laws. The laws include the Labour Act, Leave with Pay Act, Termination of Employment and Severance Pay Act (TESPA), Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act, Co-operative Societies Act, Friendly Societies Act, and The School Thrift Chapter 36:04. Minister Scott said the Labour Act, Chapter 98:01 is the most important piece of legislation that was first enacted in 1942.

Guyana’s ILO profile page provides more information on its labor laws and policies. It also sets labor standards, develop policies and devise programs promoting decent work for all women and men.

NATLEX: This database maintains an organized listing of labor laws, social security and related human rights legislation of different countriesincluding Guyana.

NORMLEX is a new information system that culls sources on international labors standards (such as ratification information, reporting requirements, comments of the ILO's supervisory bodies, etc.) as well as national labor and social security laws.

10. Additional Legal Information

Caribbean Courts


[1] James G. Apple & Robert P. Deyling, A Primer on the Civil-Law System, Federal Judiciary Center (2012).

[2] JuriGlobe - World Legal Systems, University of Ottawa (last visited May 2020).

[3] CIA, South America: Guyana (last visited Oct. 23 2019).

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] Country at the Crossroads, Freedom House (last visited Oct.11, 2019).

[7] Tim Merrill, ed. Guyana: A Country Study. Washington: GPO for the Library of Congress, 1992

[8] Id.

[9] Jack K. Menke, & Bonham C. Richardson, Guyana, Encyclopedia Britannica (Oct.11, 2019)

[10] Parliament of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana, Branches of Government (last visited Oct. 28, 2019).

[11] Id.

[12] Id.

[13] Id.

[14] Id.

[15] Id.

[16] Id.

[17] Id.

[18] Id.

[19] CIA, supra.

[20] Tim Merrill, ed. Guyana: A Country Study. Washington: GPO for the Library of Congress, 1992.

[21] Parliament of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana, supra.

[22] Id.

[23] Id.

[24] Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, FAQ (last visited Oct. 29, 2019).

[25] The Caribbean Court of Justice, FAQ (last visited Oct. 29, 2019).

[26] Id.

[27] Id.

[28] Parliament of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana, supra.

[29] Report 2015, 3 (Oct 30, 2019)

[30] International Business Publications (Washington, D.C.). Guyana: Criminal Justice System Laws, Regulations and Procedures Handbook Volume 1, Volume 1. Guyana. 2015

[31] Id.

[32] Sunita Samaroo, The High Court of Guyana: A Unique Institution, Kaiteur News, (Nov. 23, 2014),

[33] Id.

[34] Id.

[35] Id.

[36] Id.

[37] Id.

[38] Id.

[39] Guyana Association of Women Lawyers. What You Need to Know About the Law and You. Georgetown, Guyana: Red Thread Women's Press, 86 (1993).

[40] Id.

[41] International Business Publications, supra.

[42] Sunita Samaroo, Facing criminal charges and the realities of the Magistrates’ Court, Kaiteur News, (Oct. 26, 2014)

[43] Id.

[44] Id.

[45] See Report, Rashid Mohammed, Registrar (ag), Supreme Court of Judicature, Supreme Court of Judicature Annual Report 2015 (Oct 30, 2019)

[46] Parliament of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana, Constitution (last visited Oct. 30, 2019).

[47] Guyana Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Resources on the Controversy in Respect of Venezuela’s Territorial Claim Over Guyana’s Essequibo Region (last visited May 2020).