The government should look at the Fitzpatrick Committee report on the judiciary again

Dear Editor,

 

Ever since the Granger-Nagamootoo administration took over three months ago, it has been busy trying to deal with the massive corruption and to ‘right’ the ‘wrong’ during the past 23 years. There is a lot of work to be done by the new regime in several quarters. President David Granger has already announced that he will have a close look at the judiciary.

One of the main concerns is the confirmation of the Chancellor, Carl Singh and Chief Justice Ian Chang, who have been acting in their respective positions for the past decade. Reports state that the positions will be advertised to allow Guyanese and Caribbean nationals to apply. This move however does not find too much favour with the opposition, especially the former Attorney General, Anil Nandlall.

Following the change of the PNC reform regime in 1992 there were demands for constitutional reform and it was widely believed that the justice system would be among the first tasks to be undertaken. However this was not to be. President Cheddi Jagan, who had been a vocal critic of the judiciary while in opposition, instead of working on changes, invited a group of senior attorneys to advise him as to what changes were required. These recommendations, were never implemented, and were restated in a more detailed submission to President Bharrat Jagdeo who succeeded President Janet Jagan in 1999. The committee was chaired by Senior Counsel Miles Fitzpatrick who had been a critic of the Forbes Burnham administration. The committee was very critical of members of the Court of Appeal at the time and used strong language: “not far short of disgraceful” the report said, in addition to which it was perceived as being generally “both incompetent and submissive.” The committee stated, “we cannot continue the present practice of selecting judicial heads on the basis of their sympathies with the political interests of the government. Nor should the supporting appellate judges be rolled-over short-term extended post retirement functionaries, constantly looking over their shoulders at those who command their uncertain judicial futures.”

The committee also recommended financial self-administration by the judiciary, and the relocation of the power of appointment of the senior staff of the Registry to the Judicial Service Commission. On the question of the management of the courts, the Fitzpatrick Committee was of the view that there was no need for a “two-headed justice system in Guyana.” Under the current arrangements, the Chancellor was the administrative head of the system, above the Chief Justice, and also sat in the Court of Appeal. Such a system had little or nothing to do with the real needs of Guyana. This is the most important part of the recommendation. It states that there should be a President of the Court of Appeal responsible only for that court and a Chief Justice to head the High Court and administer the justice system. The PPP/C government said that it was willing to consider the financial self-administration, but only if the judiciary agreed to finance itself entirely from its own earnings, a condition that was simply not practical.

The Fitzpatrick report was submitted before the inauguration of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) in April 2005, and at that time the Guyana Court of Appeal was the final court. Perhaps it might be a good idea if the new administration have a close look at the report, and better yet if the distinguished Senior Counsel can be asked to assist the government in taking appropriate steps to improve the operations of the judiciary. On this note maybe legal luminaries like Bryn Pollard, Professor Duke Pollard, former chancellor and attorney general, Keith Massiah and Rex McKay should also be contacted to assist. I am referring to some very senior lawyers, and I do not know if they are in perfect health to assist. I did not mention Senior Counsel Ashton Chase because I think he is approaching 90.

 

Yours faithfully,

Oscar Ramjeet

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