It is my considered opinion that our judiciary is in a state of crisis and moreso at the highest level, in the Court of Appeal. Perhaps after you have finished reading this letter you may wish to disagree with me.
The complement in our Court of Appeal should be five judges i.e the Chancellor and four other judges. Unfortunately for nearly three years now we have had an acting Chancellor and three judges in the Court of Appeal. I have had cause to write before about the travesty in the non-appointment of a Chancellor and despite this and the outcry from several other quarters President Jagdeo has not seen it fit to fulfill his constitutional responsibility. The excuse that he had given sometime ago that a search committee had been set up is, with the greatest of respect to him, without merit. Unfortunately the situation is soon to become worse!
At the end of October 2007 Court of Appeal Judge Claudette Singh will be serving her last day as a judge as she will be resigning to take up an appointment in the chambers of the Attorney-General. She will be heading a project funded by the IDB to try and improve our justice system. Further sometime in December 2007 or January 2008 Justice of Appeal Nandram Kissoon will also be retiring. That will leave only one permanent member in the Court of Appeal i.e Justice Ian Chang.
The fact that a judge retires is a situation that is expected and comes by from time to time. It is a fact that is known long in advance.
Resignation is somewhat rare and adequate notice is usually given. The tragedy, perhaps that may be too strong a word and you can be the judge, is that there has been no replacement and or appointment for anyone to fill the vacancy and or void that the Court of Appeal will find itself in on the November 1, 2007.
The sensible thing would have been for someone to have been appointed sometime ago so that person could have blended in with the structure, operation,system and style of the Court. That person would have gained some confidence and perhaps not be overwhelmed by any permanent member remaining. There has been no appointment to this Court for nearly three years now and from my information no one has been appointed to commence from the November 1 or shortly thereafter. So from the November 1, 2007 we will only have two permanent members along with the acting Chancellor/ Chief Justice who has so much work in the High Court that the time he would have to spend in the Court of Appeal could be better and more constructively spent in his duty as Chief Justice. He cannot continue to ride two horses for apart from the foregoing it is not good for his health.
I cannot believe that the highest court of this country is being treated in this way and without any excuse.One has to ask the question why this is so and why it is allowed to continue! If the reason is to further denigrate the Court of Appeal and our reliance in the legal system then it is succeeding.
The responsibility for the appointment of a Chancellor rests unfortunately with the politicians. The Judicial Service Commission is responsible for the appointment of all other judges and it does appear that they have abdicated their responsibility and duty. If their advice and or recommendation(s) is not being accepted by President Jagdeo then this must be made public and they should resign as members in protest.
The Chief Justice/ acting Chancellor who is also a member of the Judicial Service Commission must in his capacity as acting Chancellor have appreciated the fact that Justice Claudette Singh would have been vacating her office. This was no secret and if he did nothing to ensure that there would have been a smooth turnover then he is to be blamed.
The Attorney-General Mr Doodnauth Singh SC who is also the Minister for Legal Affairs knew that Justice Claudette Singh was leaving the Court of Appeal as she will be going to join his Chambers and he was integrally involved in her selection. Likewise if the Attorney-General did nothing then blame must also be laid at his feet. I have been reliably informed that the advice of the learned Attorney-General is at times not sought by his `superior and sometimes not accepted. That should not be so and the Attorney-General should, if this is so, resign and take with him some pride and some of the good name he earned in his private practice.
If no appointment has been made because President Jagdeo thought otherwise then this is also clearly wrong and an explanation should be forthcoming. I can truly say that for whatever reason there has been no forward planning with regard to the Court Of Appeal and perhaps one can discern from this how the legal system is looked upon by the Government.
I wish to, in conclusion, express my thanks to Justice Claudette Singh for the years she gave to our legal system and hope that she will find satisfaction in her new task.