The appointment of Senior Counsel, after an 18 year gap, will be done in a transparent, fair and justifiable manner based on recommendations made, according to acting Chancellor of the Judiciary Carl Singh.
Justice Singh told Stabroek New that there will be a process, however, he did not go into the details of the methodology for selection and who will be participating in it.
The process of Senior Counsel elevations has long been an informal endeavour with no defined time frame between appointments. Stabroek News understands that the 18-year gap—the last appointments were done in 1996—was due to the fact that because it was the president who had made the recommendations for elevation to Senior Counsel.
Last week, a notice from the Office of the Chancellor invited eligible attorneys to submit written applications to be elevated to the position.
Previously, former magistrate Dawn Holder had raised the issue that there was a perception within Guyana that Senior Counsel appointments were a form of reward for political connections and not based solely on professional merit. She had been vocal about the need for a transparent process, saying, “It’s not a transparent process and there does not seem to be any criteria, or publicly stated criteria. In other professions, there is not this opaque process. For accountants, doctors, engineers, academics for promotion or specialist accreditation, there are exams or peer review or clear publicly stated criteria. The legal profession alone recognises achievement in the legal profession, not from the Bar Association, but from government or with government involvement.”
Most recently attorney Jonas M F Coddett in a letter to Stabroek News called for the same, while questioning the lack of female representation at the Senior Counsel level. Holder had stated that since 2009, “No women were appointed nor were any appointed before….”
The notice outlined the criteria which are: over 15 years of service; expert up-to-date legal knowledge with a record of accurate and relevant application of such knowledge; a record of written and oral advocacy; a reputation for appropriate deportment, decorum and interpersonal relationships with professional colleagues befitting that of a member of the inner Bar; and a reputation for honesty and integrity particularly with respect to professional dealings with the court, with clients and all other parties. Applicants have up to May 30 to submit proposals to the Office of the Chancellor.
The notice has departed from the norm by requesting applications as opposed to having persons appointed through a recommendation process. Head of the Guyana Bar Association Ronald Burch-Smith addressed the departure from tradition, while noting that elevations to Senior Counsel have been long overdue.
Burch-Smith stated that the way in which the Office of the Chancellor chose to advertise was necessary although many may find advertising for applicants crass. He said that in the changing world this was how things were done and that he welcomed the notice in the newspapers inviting applicants.
Burch-Smith told Stabroek News that the appointment of Senior Counsel did not need to be done in an old fashioned way and that this may be how they need to be advertised in the future to ensure that the appointments occurred on a regular basis.
“It is a very important appointment and a mark of recognition for excellent work,” Burch-Smith stated, adding that based on skills there would have been a substantial amount of persons who would be deserving of the appointment since the last elevations in 1996, when former Speaker of the National Assembly Ralph Ramkarran, Richard Fields, former Attorney General Charles Ramson, acting Chief Justice Ian Chang, Moen McDoom and the late Samuel Brotherson were elevated.