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The country’s failure to appointment a substantive Chancellor of the Judiciary and Chief Justice demonstrates clear disregard for the Constitution and the Rule of Law, Article 13 said on Tuesday, as it called on President Irfaan Ali to make the necessary appointments in accordance with the Constitution.
“Article 13 notes with dismay that successive Administrations, Presidents and Leaders of the Opposition have been unable to agree on these appointments, unmindful and unresponsive to calls to address this egregious state of affairs.
In our view this failure shows a disregard for the Constitution and the rule of law and puts the judicial system of the country in a negative light. To blame the system or to call for its change is like advocating changing the system of free and fair elections because one political party does not want to play by the rules of democracy!” the civil-society organization said in a statement on Tuesday.
It reminded that both the President and the Leader of the Opposition have taken an Oath to uphold the Constitution.
The call by the civil-society comes one week after President of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), Justice Adrian Saunders underscored the need for there to be substantive appointments of the Chancellor and Chief Justice.
It was pointed out that Justice of Appeal, Carl Singh, retired in 2017 having acted as Chancellor from 2005, a period of twelve years. Justice Ian Chang retired in February 2016, having served as acting Chief Justice from 2010. Neither was confirmed at the dates of their retirement. Similarly, Justices Yonnette Cummings-Edwards and Roxanne George have been functioning as acting Chancellor and acting Chief Justice from 2016 and 2017 respectively, to the present.
Alluding to Justice Saunders’ address during the Guyana Bar Association’s Dinner, the organization said Guyana has significant blot on an otherwise impressive legal and judicial landscape.
Former President of the CCJ, Sir Dennis Byron had also made similar calls.
Contextualizing the issue, Article 13 thought the Constitution has evolved since 1966, it appears to be challenging for the country’s leaders, particularly in the appointment of high-level posts.
“Under the 1966 Independence Constitution, it was the Governor General who had the power to appoint of the Chancellor and the Chief Justice “on the recommendation of the Prime Minister after consultation with the Leader of the Opposition” (LOP). The 1980 Constitution abolished the office of Governor General and transferred its appointing powers to the Executive President (Mr. Burnham at the time), after consultation with the Minority Leader. A later amendment made as part of the Constitutional Reform process under the Herdmanston Accord, required “agreement” between the President and the Leader of the Opposition. Article 127 A of the Constitution now vests in the President the power and the duty to appoint a Chancellor and a Chief Justice “after obtaining the agreement of the Leader of the Opposition,”” the organization detailed.
However, it said if the change was intended to advance the process, it has had the opposite effect with no appointment since the change.
Article 13 said the onus is on the President to initiate the appointment/confirmation process and that he must do so forthwith.
“We consider it manifestly unfair not to confirm the incumbents who have acted in their positions for several years. If the President is not so inclined he must say so and offer reasons,” the organization posited.
It said once the President begins the process, the onus shifts to the Opposition Leader to respond.
It posited that necessary reforms can follow the appointments.
“Such reforms are not only necessary because of the political games which are a standard fare in our political culture but importantly, because of the imperative to remove the association of the appointments of the Guyana top judicial officers from the political arena,” it reasoned.
The organization posited that the country’s success sdepend on good governance, adherence to the Rule of Law and the strengthening of its political culture.
It will also underscored the need for the inadequacies in the judicial system to be addressed such as the shortage of judges in the High Court and the Court of Appeal.
“The recent batch of judges appointed under the Coalition have performed commendably and any fear that the pool is empty may not be accurate. Regrettably, it is going to be much easier to draw from the AG’s Chambers, the Office of the DPP, the magistracy and attorneys in the public sector to make up the complement of judges our country so badly needs, than it is to ask private practitioners to give up their lucrative practice, even temporarily,” it said.