Row erupts between High Court and Ministry over hiring of staff
A dispute has erupted between the Supreme Court of Judicature and the Ministry of Legal Affairs over the hiring of staff for a court reporting unit, which observers say strikes at the heart of ensuring the full independence of the judiciary from the executive branch.
In yesterday’s edition of Stabroek News by way of an advertisement, the Supreme Court repudiated a notice by the Ministry of Legal Affairs in the Sunday Chronicle of July 27 inviting applications to fill vacancies for the Verbatim Court Reporting Unit (VCRU) for the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court, in its notice, said it will not recognize the appointments. “The Supreme Court wishes to advise that it is no way connected with this advertisement,” the notice stated.
“Applicants and prospective applicants who respond to the aforesaid advertisement and who are successful in securing employment with the Ministry of Legal Affairs are hereby advised that they should not consider themselves employees of the Supreme Court and that the Supreme Court will not recognize such appointments and such persons should not expect to be accommodated by the Supreme Court,” the notice, signed by Supreme Court Registrar Rashid Mohamed, said.
Stabroek News was told that there was a “rift” between the Ministry of Legal Affairs and the Supreme Court, with the latter saying that it should be the ones hiring staff.
“They (the Supreme Court) claim that it was unconstitutional and only they (the Supreme Court) had the power to employ so that’s what this is about… but it’s a power struggle,” an insider from the Ministry of Legal Affairs told Stabroek News yesterday.
The July 27th Sunday Chronicle notice by the Ministry of Legal Affairs pertained to the hiring of a Chief Editor, Senior Editor, reporters, press technicians and an audio technician for the VCRU.
The Ministry of Legal Affairs insider explained to Stabroek News that it was the objective of the Ministry of Legal Affairs to assist in the upgrading of the department and as such it procured state-of-the-art material for staff of the VCRU. Further, the source said that the Ministry of Legal Affairs from the outset had planned to hire the necessary staff. It was later told by the Supreme Court that only that entity was mandated to hire staff, an explanation that the Legal Affairs Ministry rejects.
“The constitution states specifically the category of Staff the Supreme Court can hire. These workers do not fall into that category,” the source argued.
As a result, the Legal Affairs Ministry will continue in its bid to have persons employed and VCRU established as planned, the source said.
In 2012, APNU MP Carl Greenidge had embarked on a series of motions intended to ensure the autonomy of constitutional agencies and the Supreme Court. One of the objectives was to ensure that the Supreme Court was funded by a direct charge on the Consolidated Fund rather than being treated as a subvention agency by the government, which had been the case. The government eventually relented in April this year and the Supreme Court now benefits from the direct charge.
In his motion, Greenidge had pointed out that Article 122 A (1) of the Constitution prescribes that “All Courts and all persons presiding over courts shall exercise their functions independently of the control and direction of any other person or authority; and shall be free and independent from political, executive and any other form of direction and control”.
Further Article 122 A (2) says that “Subject to the provisions of articles 199 and 201 (appointment of judicial, legal and public officers) all courts shall be administratively autono-mous and shall be funded by a direct charge upon the Consolidated Fund; and such courts shall operate in accordance with the principles of sound financial and administrative management”.
This article would seem to make it clear that all administrative matters fall under the court and not the executive.
In February of this year, the National Assembly had unanimously passed the Recording of Court Proceedings Bill 2014, tabled then by Attorney General Anil Nandlall. The bill provides for the Registrar of the Supreme Court or the clerk of the magistrate’s court to cause a transcript of the record of the proceedings to be prepared.
Clause 5 states that the record of proceedings shall be verified by certificates of those responsible for the accuracy of the recording of the proceedings, while Clause 6 provides for access to the transcript and recordings by a party to the proceedings upon payment of the requisite fee.
Nandlall had explained that the new law was aimed at speeding up the operations of the courts transcribing processes, while transitioning the verbatim reporting process from one of a tedious manual note taking process to using technologically advanced measures.
Verbatim court reporting which would ease the burden of judges having to write down testimony has been long sought.
The Attorney General had also told the National Assembly that there are many complaints about the delays that affect the judicial system and the injustices they create in the criminal and civil justice administration.