Why are we recruiting judges from outside Guyana?
The announcement by Mr Joseph Harmon, Minister of State, that “Government will be proceeding with its plan to extend advertisements for the posts of Chancellor and Chief Justice” (SN June 25, 2015), requires some commentary.
By an almost impenetrable network of provisions, doctrines and mechanisms, the constitution guarantees the independence of the judiciary against every form of influence and pollution from every person or authority, especially, the executive branch of government. This is so because it is the judiciary which stands as the bulwark of the rights and freedoms of the citizens; it is the guardian of the constitution and it is through its vigilance that the rule of law prevails. More significantly, it is this institution that has the greatest constitutional duty to ensure that the executive acts in accordance with law and the constitution and does not abuse its powers and authority.
Against that backdrop, there are some pivotal questions for which answers must be forthcoming. Firstly, why the expressed intention to advertise the position of the chief justice when there is no vacancy in that office? It is common knowledge that the acting Chancellor is the substantive Chief Justice of Guyana. To my mind, this Freudian slip unwittingly exposes a preconceived mindset and agenda which ought to be obvious to the rational mind.
Secondly, in almost 50 years as an independent nation, not once was an attempt ever made to recruit judges from outside of Guyana. Why now? Indeed, we are known to be a reservoir that supplies judges, magistrates and lawyers to the Caribbean and as far afield as the continent of Africa.
Why are we now importing judges? Is there an acceptance by the government that Guyana is devoid of persons of sufficient standing, skill, reputation and learning to occupy high positions in the judiciary?
Thirdly, and most significantly, why the marked reluctance to confirm the two persons who have held these offices for more than a decade and, I dare say, have acquitted themselves in those offices with distinction? No one can sensibly question the qualifications and experience of these two gentlemen who have served their country with eminence. I am aware that these distinguished jurists have won the respect and acclaim of their peers in the Caribbean, the Commonwealth and elsewhere.
As Opposition Leader, Mr David Granger withheld his agreement for their appointments. I called upon him then to candidly inform the nation of the reasons for so doing. Silence, unfortunately, was chosen as the refuge. As President, we are now made aware that the repudiation continues.
Again, no reasons are furnished. The nation is left with no option but to surmise. National speculation on such fundamental matters is indeed anathema to constitutional democracy. Speaking for myself, this entire saga is nothing short of an onslaught on the independence of the judiciary.
This event is reminiscent of an incident which occurred in early post-independent Guyana. The then government created the office of the Chancellor of the Judiciary, over and above the office of the Chief Justice, as head of the judiciary. It was widely believed that this was done not only to circumvent but to also humiliate the then sitting chief justice. It was, presumably, successful because the chief justice resigned and migrated permanently from Guyana shortly thereafter.
The similarities to the current situation are as striking as they are frightening.
Mohabir Anil Nandlall