I hereby convey my sincere congratulations to Justice of Appeal, Madame Justice Yonnette Cummings-Edwards, who was recently appointed to act in the office of the Chief Justice of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana. This is the second time in our country’s history that a woman has been appointed to function in this office. The first of course, being the illustrious Madam Desiree Bernard, who later became the Chancellor of the Judiciary and was subsequently elevated to the Caribbean Court of Justice.
Justice Cummings-Edwards’ appointment is yet another illustration of how far we have evolved as a society from the days when our women were not exposed to educational and professional pursuits, but were domesticated as mothers and home-makers. This appointment, therefore, will continue to inspire our women and demonstrate to them that the sky can be their limit.
Justice Cummings-Edwards’ appointment comes at a critical time in our democracy. She takes over the reins of the crucial Constitutional and Administrative Court before which there are several very important political cases pending, including the Elections Petitions and a challenge to the selection of two sitting government members of parliament. These cases raise complex and fundamental questions of law and they reek of heavy political underpinnings. The public interest in their conduct and outcome is overwhelming. They were both part-heard before the former Chief Justice. Arguments have concluded in the constitutional challenge to the sitting MPs. It is now for ruling. In the Elections Petition, arguments have been concluded in a summons to strike out the petition. Again, a ruling is now pending. Legally, these rulings can still be made by Justice Chang since he is on leave. If he decides not to rule, then these cases will have to start over de novo before another judge.
In relation to the Elections Petition, the law provides that it can be heard by the Chief Justice or by a judge whom the Chief Justice assigns. The other matter is a constitutional challenge. It will therefore have to be heard by the Constitutional Court. What is certain is that the public expectations will be tremendous and the public’s interest in and scrutiny of this court will continue to be intense. While in opposition, the APNU+AFC called for more than one judge to sit in this court. I hope now that they are in government, they will not change that tune. I cannot over-emphasize how important it is for this court, perhaps more than any other, to continue to enjoy public confidence.
Another monumental challenge for Justice Cummings-Edwards in this equation is the phenomenal workload that Chief Justice Chang carried in this court. Quite apart from the political cases, there are dozens of constitutional and public law matters that are filed weekly, most of which are as complex as they are significant. There are also several bail petitions and a large number of estate matters, all of which were heard and determined with commendable dispatch by Chief Justice Chang. I can say without the fear of contradiction that his shoes would be extremely difficult to fill. The legal profession knows this too well. Therefore, Justice Cummings-Edwards’ task is not an easy one ‒ a fact of which I believe Her Honour is very much aware. In any event, I have no doubt that she will acquit herself with distinction in this new post. She enjoys my best wishes.
I also salute Chief Justice Chang for giving fifteen years of outstanding service on the bench to his country and his people. During his tenure, Justice Chang has had to deal with some of the most vexed and complex legal issues known to the law. He heard and determined some of the most socially and politically controversial cases in our post-independence history. In so doing, he attracted the wrath of civil society and politicians alike. In my view, he was influenced by neither. He decided cases fearlessly and based upon his interpretation of the law. He always wrote, so that his legal reasons can be examined by all and sundry.
It is not possible to properly pay tribute to Justice Chang in a single piece. More will be written later. But before I close, I feel compelled to disclose that as Chief Justice, he rendered more written decisions than the entire High Court combined. That, without more, speaks volumes of his contribution. As he sails off into the judicial sunset, I wish him well. I have no doubt that I echo the sentiments of the entire profession when I say, “We will all miss you on the bench, Chief.”
Mohabir Anil Nandlall, MP