Chief Justice Carl Singh says the non-support of Opposition Leader Robert Corbin for his nomination as chancellor has weakened his position and he considers accusations made by the PNCR leader of him being pro-government as unjust and factually incorrect.
In a recent interview with the Sunday Stabroek, the Acting Chancellor of the Judiciary said he would prefer to amplify his position on this particular issue at the appropriate time, but stated that he was first and foremost a judge with a love for the law.
“I am committed to upholding the rule of law. I am proud of my independence as a judge. Those facts remain as strong as ever and will remain strong irrespective of what any political person or group may believe.”
A year ago the backlog of cases in the judicial system stood at 19,000 and it has been reduced to approximately 13,000 cases. The Chief Justice noted that backlog was a persistent problem but pointed out that considerable work had been done to reduce it. He said a programme was at present being structured that would consistently target the backlog and bring the work of the court to current status.
The establishment of the Commercial Court was a significant development in reducing the backlog, the Chief Justice noted. He said the court had performed very efficiently since its creation and lawyers who utilized it had testified to this. Prior to the Commercial Court, he said, many cases had been caught up in the large volume of matters awaiting trial in the Bail Court. He pointed out that the hearing and completion rate of the Commercial Court had been phenomenal, in short, it was a success story.
With respect to mediation and its impact on the judiciary, he said, it was still a relatively new concept to Guyana and its acceptance had been slow. But the Mediation Centre at the Supreme Court had recorded limited success, notwithstanding this. He said there could be greater acceptance of the undoubted importance of mediation as a form of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) if the lawyers who practised in the courts accepted that mediation was an effective and proven method of ADR.
The Chief Justice said he was expecting the imminent Justice Sector Reform Programme to strengthen a number of areas in the system, such as the work of the Judicial Service Commission (JSC), but more importantly, he was looking forward to a marked reduction in the backlog of cases which he described as “an albatross around our necks.”
He said hopefully a JSC Act would pronounce on, or would define the functions of the commission and would direct the scope of its powers. The JSC Act would build an independent judiciary, he noted, adding that there was hope that new areas of oversight and supervision would be implemented along with the authority to impose sanctions for breaches of discipline.
The financial management of the courts is also included in the reform process. This, he said, when strengthened and improved, would result in a more independent judiciary. He noted that a JSC Act would be an important step in the process of governance, adding that the Court Registry would be restructured and strengthened, making it more responsive to the needs of the litigating public in its support and provision of ancillary service to the judges.
Further, he said the Court Registry was expected to be computerized and an electronic file-tracing system would be introduced. He explained that the reform programme also catered for persistent training and continuing education for judges and magistrates – the aim being to improve their expertise and skills as well as keep them abreast of continuing developments in the law.
He said the Supreme Court had the statutory complement of judges but there were vacancies at the Court of Appeal and in the magistracy. Since there was no JSC in place there was no indication when the positions would be filled.
The Chief Justice said he was hoping that the responsible politicians would fulfil their constitutional obligation.
“The failure of the politicians to move and determine the composition of the Judicial Service Commission is impacting negatively upon the work of the judiciary and functions of the court,” he stated.
The question of salaries for judges and magistrates, he said, was a sensitive issue and he limited his response to the fact that at present it was of concern to the executive and magistrates.
And commenting on the length of time some judges took before handing down a decision, he said the judiciary had been criticized for some time now about it and the criticism was justified in many instances. He said the time would soon come when judges would have to recognize that the old order would have to go. Lengthy delays in handing down decisions would not be tolerated and serious consequences would flow if such delays persisted.
The Chief Justice addressed the issue of compensation for justice in the local judicial system and referred to it as “against public policy.” He said the payment of compensation should be mitigatory, adding that from time to time magistrates had supervised such payments to victims and had accepted victim’s evidence that they did not wish to continue with the matter. However, he said criminal prosecutions were by the state and victims were compellable witnesses.
The judiciary, he said, was not without the understanding that the wider society perceived the facilitating of compensation as pardoning the rich and allowing them to escape without sanctions for criminal wrongs they would have committed, while those who were unable to offer compensation faced conviction.
According to the Chief Justice, the rich must surely be likely to serve time in prison in the same way as the next person.
He said magistrates had been too lenient with victims given that serious charges were attached to the settlement of criminal matters.
The issue of compensation for justice would be on the agenda of the forthcoming Magistrates Conference, the Chief Justice said.