Bar Association Head comes down on side of Supreme Court in hiring row

Legal Affairs Minister Anil Nandlall says his ministry proceeded to advertise for vacancies for the Supreme Court’s Verbatim Court Reporting Unit (VCRU) based on directions from the Public Service Ministry but President of the        Bar Association, Ronald Burch-Smith says the law strictly provides for the Supreme Court to make the decision.

The action has sparked a row between the Ministry and the Supreme Court of the Judicature on which entity has the authority to hire the judiciary’s staff. On August 1st the Supreme Court by way of an advertisement repudiated a notice by the Ministry of Legal Affairs in the July 27th edition of the Guyana Chronicle inviting applications to fill vacancies in the VCRU.

In the advertisement the Supreme Court said it will not recognize, and will   not accommodate anyone appointed pursuant to the notice as they would not be considered employees of the Supreme Court. The notice was signed by Supreme Court Registrar Rashid Mohamed.

Yesterday, Nandlall told Stabroek News that while the Supreme Court enjoys autonomy, some functions, including the recruitment of employees are within the remit of the Ministry as it has oversight of the judicial sector. On April 16th Finance Minister Dr Ashni Singh revised the 2014 Budget in a manner which paved the way for the judiciary to be financed via a direct charge on the Consolidated Fund.

The move was in keeping with the Constitution which declares that entities under the Third Schedule, Article 222 (A) shall be funded by a direct charge on the Fund. Nandlall said yesterday though that the hiring of staff for the public service for the various ministries falls under the purview of the Public Service Ministry and that the Legal Affairs Ministry acted on the direction of the former to fill the vacancies. Vacancies advertised included Chief Editor and reporters.

Burch-Smith told Stabroek News yesterday that existing laws place such hiring in the purview of the Supreme Court, and added that he is surprised that there is a public dispute on the matter. He noted that the Judicial Proceedings Recording Act passed earlier this year authorizes judges to determine who should record ongoing proceedings. “Technically, the judge can appoint anyone to make the recordings,” Burch-Smith said, and he added that judges would be free to accept whatever ar-rangement is set up by the Legal Affairs Ministry once the two sides agree to mechanism.

He reiterated though, that the laws make it clear that the Judiciary has authority to hire in the aforementioned regard.

Stabroek News has been told that there is 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 on Friday.

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.

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.

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 auto-nomous 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.

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