The resignation of Court of Appeal Judge Claudette Singh has reduced the number of Court of Appeal judges to only two – Justices of Appeal Nandram Kissoon and Ian Chang – in addition to the Chief Justice and acting Chancellor Carl Singh.
It is reported that the situation will be even more grave when Justice Kissoon goes into retirement at the end of the year. As pointed out by the acting Chancellor, three judges normally comprise the Appellate Court panel, but this is cutting it too thin especially since the acting Chancellor performs two functions – Head of the Judiciary as well as Chief Justice and is saddled with administrative work.
First instance judges can also act as Court of Appeal judges, but there is a lot of work to keep them busy on a daily basis.
The position of Chancellor was not filled during the past three years because of a stalemate – between President Bharrat Jagdeo and the Leader of the Opposition, Robert Corbin, who is also an Attorney-at law – on the President’s choice, Chief Justice Carl Singh.
Why have the powers that be allowed the situation to be so chaotic? Why did the lawmakers on both sides of Parliament agree to amend Article 127 of the Constitut-ion in 2001 (Act 6 of 2001) to read that” the Chancellor and the Chief Justice shall each be appointed by the President acting after obtaining the agreement of the Leader of the Opposition”
This to my mind is not a sensible move since the opposition party will most likely not agree with the nomination of the government for the top posts in the judiciary. It should have remained “in consultation” with the leader of the opposition.
Article 128 of the Constitution gives the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) power to advise the President on appointments of Court of Appeal and first instance judges and Articles 198 and 199 outline the composition of the JSC. However, the Judicial Service Commission has not been in place for some time. This seems not only to be stalling the appointments of Court of Appeal Judges, but first instance judges as well. There are several of them in acting positions.
The delay in confirming these judicial officers is so blatant that legal proceedings were instituted against the government over the delay in their confirmation. One of them is approaching the age of retirement and will not be entitled to benefits if not confirmed.
PNCR Chairman Winston Murray who is a lawyer has also filed an action challenging a Bill which seeks to transfer the administrative functions of the Chief Justice to the Office of the Chancellor.