Delay in appointing JSC adds to logjam in court cases

Legal Affairs Minister Anil Nandlall says the backlog in Guyana’s judiciary is growing every day that the National Assembly’s Committee of Appointments delays the appointment of the Judicial Service Commission (JSC).

The commission is tasked by the constitution with appointing persons to serve as judges and magistrates. The last commission expired last year and Nandlall says the failure of the Committee of Appointments to appoint another is affecting the judiciary’s efficiency.

So serious is the matter, he said, that President Donald Ramotar penned a letter to Opposition Leader David Granger detailing some of the negative implications. Stabroek News attempted to contact Granger for a comment on the correspondence sent to him by the president but he could not be reached.

Anil Nandlall
Anil Nandlall

According to Nandlall, the Essequibo and Demerara Land Court(s) are without judges and are therefore not functioning. This, he lamented, has been the case since the year started. As a result, land disputes in these counties cannot be decided and the number of such cases continue to rack up.

In addition, the minister said, there are several vacancies in the magistracy which cannot be filled until the JSC is appointed and moves to nominate candidates to be appointed as magistrates. Further, the long-awaited Family Court, which Nandlall says is now fully furnished and has to be fitted with judges before it can begin to function. As is the case with the magistracy and the Land Court, those judges will not be appointed until the JSC is constituted.

Also, noting the need for a larger compliment of judges in the High Court, President Donald Ramotar has issued an order for an increase. “We cannot take advantage of the order because of the non-appointment of the JSC,” Nandlall lamented.

A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) MP George Norton chairs the Committee of Appointment, and is therefore responsible for calling the meetings during which such deliberations are made. Stabroek News attempted to contact Norton yesterday with the aim of finding out when the JSC would be appointed, however he did not immediately return this newspaper’s calls.

Leader of the Alliance for Change (AFC) Khemraj Ramjattan told Stabroek News during a brief interview said he believes the committee last met in March, when it deliberated on the intended membership of the Ethnic Relations Commission (ERC), the Public Service Commission (PSC) and the Police Service Commission.

Ramjattan said he believes the committee will wrap up its deliberation on the above mentioned bodies on Tuesday, and then move on the matter of the JSC. Before the JSC is appointed, the Committee of Appointment will write to the Guyana Association of Women Lawyers (GAWL), the Guyana Bar Association (GBA), and the Berbice Bar Association (BBA), as these bodies are required to nominate candidates to sit on the JSC.

Speaking with Stabroek News yesterday, GBA President Ronald Burch-Smith said the association has identified its appointees and will make these known to the Committee of Appointment as soon as it is contacted.

Burch-Smith believes the shortage of judges is taking the strongest toll on the criminal court. He said that there are currently about 300 backlogged High Court trials, and the number continues to climb.

Stabroek News also attempted to contact BBA President Deena Panday and GAWL President Simone Morris-Ramlall, however neither could be reached.

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