President David Granger yesterday met with the Leader of the Opposition, Bharrat Jagdeo and proposed that Justice Yonette Cummings-Edwards serve as Chief Justice when Justice Ian Chang proceeds on pre-retirement leave on December 15.
In a Ministry of the Presidency statement, Granger described Justice Cummings-Edwards as the most suitable person to act in the position.
“We looked at the judges particularly, the judges in the appeal court and we felt that Justice Yonette Cummings-Edwards was the person that could carry out the duties of Chief Justice. We felt she was the most suitable person. We looked at her experience; the decisions that she has given, her qualifications and we felt she was the most suitable when all these factors were taken into consideration”, he said.
Justice Cummings-Edwards is now expected to take up the post of Acting Chief Justice after Justice Chang goes on pre-retirement leave.
The President added that the consultative process was in line with what is required by Guyana’s Constitution.
“The Constitution requires me to consult and having considered the potential candidates, I have made my choice. I am satisfied that she is a good person to fulfil that function and in due course I will have to have other consultations with the Leader of the Opposition to have a permanent appointee but right now Mr. Carl Singh is the substantive Chief Justice, he is acting Chancellor and I do hope that in due course we will be able to have substantive persons in both positions”, he said.
The now opposition PPP/C and APNU had differed for a long period over the confirmation of nominees to the posts of Chancellor and CJ.
In an invited comment following the consultation, the Ministry of the Presidency statement said that Jagdeo suggested a selection process which is not constitutionally required for the naming of the Acting Chief Justice as well as another for the appointment of the substantive position.
“The president proposed a name, I spoke about a process and I asked that the elements of the process that I suggested are: one, the most senior judge should act at this point in time and secondly that if it’s performance based, that we should get a report from the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) about the performance of the nominees and people or the nominee and compare to others who are a part of the senior leadership of the judiciary”, the Opposition Leader said.
However, Granger in the release said that at this time the consultation was geared toward discussions on the role of Acting Chief Justice and emphasised that it was done in accordance with Guyana’s Constitution. “There is nothing in the Constitution which requires the type of process Mr. Jagdeo described and as far as I am concerned, the consultation was entirely in accordance with the Constitution”, The President said.
Granger added, “We are not looking for a permanent appointee because acting Chancellor of the Judiciary, Mr. Carl Singh is the substantive Chief Justice so I cannot fill a position that is already occupied. So from the outset we knew that the nominee would be the Acting Chief Justice… Nothing that was done today was at variance with the Constitution.”
Jagdeo also added, according to the press release, that he had not had an opportunity to review the curriculum vitae of the nominee prior to the meeting.
Supporting Government’s position, Attorney General Basil Williams said in the release, “Under the Constitution, the President is required to have meaningful consultations with the Leader of the Opposition on this matter. Those Consultations were just held and the President had just given his nominee to perform the functions of that office… and that’s what we were required to do. There are no criteria at this stage to determine anything else. All that’s being required to do is indicate our nominee to perform [the] functions of that office.”
Williams also praised the Government’s nominee. He said, “We believe she’s the best person for the role. She’s highly qualified, very experienced, in terms of being on the bench, she’s been in the Court of Appeal for many years [and] a lot of her own decisions have been upheld by the Caribbean Court of Justice. So there’s no question about her competence and her qualifications and her dedication to that office”.
At a press briefing following his meeting with the President, Jagdeo reiterated his call for seniority to apply and a report to be prepared by the JSC even though he acknowledged that there was no formal process conducted prior to the appointment of acting Chief Justice Chang.
Jagdeo, at the press briefing held at Freedom House, said he was still formulating an opinion on Granger’s nomination.
He said the Attorney General had asked if he had a nominee, but since the President did not ask him to name a potential nominee, he refrained. “I said no I did not have a nominee but I had some principles I think we should following making such an appointment,” he said, “that… the person should fill at least two criteria; one be the most senior judge on the bench or in the judiciary and… that a report, an objective report, should be solicited from the constitutional body the Judicial Service Commission about the performance of that person in office, the number of cases heard, how many decisions were written, outstanding work, disciplinary issues etcetera that those two factors should determine who will be the acting Chief Justice.”
The Leader of the Opposition said he was still in the process of reviewing Justice Cummings-Edwards’s curriculum vitae. He added that he would conduct his own research into the nominee’s seniority on the bench.
Jagdeo said gender balance in high appointments was always a good sign, but competency should also come first in making appointments of this nature.
The former president said plainly that the president is under no obligation to have the opposition in agreement with him.
While Jagdeo stressed seniority and gender balance, his administration had bypassed Justice of Appeal Claudette Singh in making senior appointments to the judiciary. At that time Justice Singh was the most senior on the bench.