Guyana
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Substantive Chief Justice, Chancellor to await work of Judicial Service Commission

Acting Chief Justice Roxanne George-Wiltshire (right) and Acting Chancellor of the Judiciary Justice Yonette Cummings-Edwards.

President Irfaan Ali on Saturday said substantive appointments of the Chief Justice and Chancellor of the Judiciary would have to await the work of the Judicial Service Commission (JSC), even as he steered away from questions about whether he favoured the acting appointees.

“That commission will now conduct its work independently; not only the issue of the Chancellor and the Chief Justice, but I know they’re working on the judiciary in its macro form, because there are a lot of vacancies and appointments that need to be made,” he told a news conference.

The President said “we want excellence” in all three arms of government- the executive, legislature and the judiciary. “What I’m concerned about is an effective judicial system, one that we can rely on, one that the international community can rely on, one that is efficient and supported by necessary technology and infrastructure that will make them efficient, one in which we have the full complement of  complement of judges and magistrates and that is what the JSC is for so I’m not going to confine myself to individuals or posts. I’m going to confine myself to the system and I must get a holistic system,” he said.

The JSC has nothing constitutionally to do with the substantive appointment of a Chancellor and a Chief Justice but requires the agreement of the Opposition Leader. President Ali said “we have to look at the entire judiciary” which has numerous vacancies. “I want the work of the Judicial Service Commission to be expanded so that we can understand the fullness of the issues and challenges of the judiciary so that we can approach this in a holistic way,” he added.

Opposition Leader Aubrey Norton in June 2022 formally wrote Dr Ali stating that he would be supporting Justice Roxane George-Wiltshire to be appointed substantively appointed Chief Justice and Justice of Appeal, Yonette Cummings as Chancellor.  A High Court in April 2023 found that the President did not breach the constitution and could not order timelines to the executive to take action but urged the Guyanese Leader and the Opposition Leader to act swiftly and hold those constitutionally required consultations.

While the President on Saturday again reiterated that Guyana is not without a Chancellor of the Judiciary and a Chief Justice, former and current Presidents of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) have expressed concern about the decades-long failure by Guyana to appoint a substantive holders of those two top judicial positions.

Asked whether government’s dissatisfaction with a number of the rulings by the Guyana Court of Appeal on political cases such as those about the no-confidence motion was a consideration for not wanting to readily appoint a substantive Chancellor, Dr Ali remarked that on each occasion his People’s Progressive Party had been “vindicated” by the CCJ, Guyana’s final court. He did say whether that was a consideration for the delay. “No, no, no. You’re taking your assumption a bit far with me not not wanting to appoint the Chancellor and the Chief Justice,” he said.

As late as Thursday, Vice President Bharrat Jagdeo remarked that the Guyana Court of Appeal had ruled against the PPP, causing the party to move to the CCJ where it won concerning then President David Granger’s unconstitutional unilateral appointment of Justice James Patterson as Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission. “Had it not been for the CCJ, because the local courts didn’t help, had it not been for the CCJ we would not have had his removal”. “The same thing happened with the No-Confidence Motion; again the local Court of Appeal did not help with their ruling.” In December 2021, then Local Government Minister Nigel Dharamlall had publicly called for the Chancellor of the Judiciary and Justice of Appeal Dawn Gregory to be removed because he thought that their election petition-related judgement and another decision are biased. Mr Dharamlall’s Facebook comments that the judges were “biased” and should be “defrocked” were removed after the Guyana Bar Association had voiced its concern.  He instead retained the following: “Same two judges who ruled that 33 is not the majority of 65. Luckily, the Caribbean Court of Justice is our apex court.”

The CCJ has repeatedly criticised the fact that those two top judicial offices have not had substantive appointments since 2005 due to the failure by the sitting opposition at any given time to give it constitutional support for government’s nominees.