Support Village Voice News With a Donation of Your Choice.
Last week Attorney General (AG) and Minister of Legal Affairs Anil Nandlall, SC, announced the Government’s intent to expand the Court of Appeal to as many as nine judges. The extant law allows for a minimum of three but not more than five. This does not sit well with the Government who is planning on expanding the complement to not less than five but not more than nine.
Speaking to Stabroek News about the proposal the AG said whereas he has done no consultation on the matter he hopes when he does with the judiciary and legal profession his proposal will find agreement. But shadow Minister of Legal Affairs Roysdale Forde, SC, is questioning the AG’s intent.
According to Forde, the statement that the panel of Judges of the Court of Appeal must be increased to nine may well amount to nothing more than a perverse attempt to pack the court through a politicised Judicial Service Commission. Nandlall had announced the government’s intent to expedite the process of activating the Commission when the National Assembly comes out of its annual recess. The Commission, which plays a role in appointing judges and magistrates, was not constituted since 2017.
The government is known not to spare the judiciary its verbal attacks when the decisions do not come down in their favour.
Last December when acting Chancellor Yonette Edwards- Cummings and Appeal Court Justice Dawn Gregory Barnes, by majority decision, ruled the Court of Appeal has jurisdiction to hear an election petition appeal, Minister Nigel Dharamlall called for the justices to be “defrocked.” His rebuke was modified after public condemnation, including from members of the Bar. Forde, appearing on Mark Benschop’s ‘Straight Up’ programme, said the minister’s behaviour was unacceptable and he should have been immediately removed as minister, and called for the AG to “condemn the attack on the Judges of the Court of Appeal.” There was no apology from the minister for his offending comments nor public condemnation from the AG.
Questioning what guides the AG’s decision-making processes, the shadow minister pointed out there has been no recent study released by the AG which has examined the current challenges and needs of the Court of Appeal.
However, according to the AG the caseload leaving the High Court for further ventilation before the Court of Appeal is increasing and under the present circumstance the number of Justices of Appeal is “obviously inadequate.” To this end the shadow minister countered: “Why stop at 9, why not 18?”
“Plucking the figure 9 without any rational appreciation of the current needs of the judiciary underscores the obvious attempt to have a compliant Court of Appeal,” added Forde, who flatly stated “Nandalal’s Court packing agenda is not Court reform.”