Attorney General sues Stabroek News, Chris Ram

Attorney General Anil Nandlall has sued Guyana Publications Inc, publishers of Stabroek News and the Sunday Stabroek for $20M over a letter in the March 19th edition of the newspaper.

The letter entitled `It is the President’s duty alone to appoint three members of the Judicial Service Commission’ was authored by Ram.

Nandlall is seeking damages in excess of $10M for alleged libel contained in the letter and aggravated damages in excess of $10M. The AG is also seeking an injunction restraining the defendants from republishing the alleged libel.

In his statement of claim, Nandlall contends that words used in the letter were understood to mean that he is incompetent, guilty of dereliction of duty as the principal legal advisor to the President and Government of Guyana and is unfit to hold the office of Attorney General.

The letter that the AG has sued over follows:

It is the President’s duty alone to appoint three members of the Judicial Service Commission

Dear Editor,

Mr Anil Nandlall, Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs needs to take his own advice to the media to “exercise care in what is published” (‘President consulting on appointments to JSC, other commissions –AG,’ SN, March 18). In seeking to divert blame from himself for failing to advise the President on his duty to appoint the Judicial Service Commission, Mr Nandlall blamed the National Assembly for failing to initiate the process for nominating members with respect to the commission.

There is at least one of three explanations for the almost continuous stream of statements earning Mr Nandlall some unfavourable attention: he is careless about details, as he was in relation to the Council of Legal Education necessitating a correction by the Vice-Chancellor of the University of the West Indies; he is cavalier about the constitution and the law, as in his statement that he has to issue an Assent Certificate to Bills passed by the National Assembly; or he is mischievous and obfuscatory, as in this case.

Instead of telling the opposition that it should “concentrate on that which they are required to do and stop attempting to undertake responsibilities that they do not have,” he should address the advice to the President in whom alone resides the responsibility, the duty and the power to appoint three members of the Judicial Service Commission, other than the ex officio members.

Of the three members, one must be a retired judge appointed by the President after consultation with the Leader of the Opposition, and not less than one or more than two appointed on the recommendation of the National Assembly after it has consulted with bodies representative of the legal profession.

The problem for the citizens of Guyana is that the PPP/C governments under Bharrat Jagdeo and now President Ramotar have shown disdain for the establishment and efficient functioning of vital constitutional bodies such as the Judicial Service Commission. If Mr Nandlall took his constitutional and portfolio duties seriously he would not “opt not to say much” about a commission which appointed under highly questionable circumstances Mr Rabi Sukul as a Justice of the Guyana Court of Appeal causing the country much embarrassment and highlighting the need for significant reform of that commission.

Mr Nandlall must be aware that under the 1980 (Burnham) Constitution the President appoints not only the Judicial Service Commission but also appoints all judges on the advice of the JSC. The only exceptions are the Chancellor and the Chief Justice who are appointed after obtaining the agreement of the Leader of the Opposition.

The vital importance of the JSC is that it practically determines the delivery of justice to citizens of the country. A serious President and a professional principal legal adviser would accord the highest priority to the proper establishment and efficient functioning of such a commission. After all, the JSC not only recommends persons for appointment as judges of the High Court and the Court of Appeal but is also vested with the power to appoint, remove and exercise discipline over persons holding judicial offices, except strangely the Solicitor General. The constitution actually lists these offices to include the Commissioner of Title, the DPP, the Deputy DPP, Magistrate, Registrar and Deputy Registrar of the High Court, the Registrar and Deputy Registrar.

The refusal by the Attorney General to speak on the failings of the JSC and the President’s failure to act in a timely manner to ensure that there is a functioning and effective body is not only irresponsible but a grave dereliction of duty. Mr Nandlall’s attempt to attribute blame to the opposition in the National Assembly shows an unwillingness to deal with serious issues and is mere cheap politics that demean his high office.

Yours faithfully,

Christopher Ram


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