President David Granger yesterday confirmed that he was in possession of a list of judicial nominees to fill four positions and said that an announcement will be made when the time is right.
“I am considering the list which I have before me and in due course the announcement will be made,” Granger said in a brief comment on the issue moments after he handed out Instruments of Appointment to eight of the nine long serving attorneys who were elevated to the status of Senior Counsel.
Asked how long before the announcement would be made he responded, “Well as long as it takes.”
Well-placed sources had told Stabroek News last month that the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) summited its recommendations since May last year, but was yet to receive a response from the President. This newspaper was told that it was being recommended that two High Court judges be elevated to the Court of Appeal. Names of replacements for them have also been recommended. This newspaper was also informed that the two judges recommended for the Court of Appeal were very experienced and have performed satisfactorily during their time on the bench. One of the two chosen as replacements is a lawyer in private practice with a well-known law firm.
Since this issue was highlighted by the opposition PPP/C, the Ministry of the Presidency has not explained the reason for the delay, although Minister of State Joseph Harmon has said the President would act with “reasonable speed” on the appointment of judges recommended by the JSC.
When approached, JSC Chairman and acting Chancellor of the Judiciary Justice Carl Singh declined to speak on the issue. “That’s not a subject that I would like to discuss because it’s unfinished business of the Judicial Service Commission,” he said.
Attorney General Basil Williams, by way of a letter to the media, had responded to calls by the PPP/C for the President to act.
In his letter, which was published in the November 18 edition of Stabroek News, Williams had stressed that the President was paying careful attention to his constitutional duty in the appointment of judges and made the point that he was not bound by a timeline.
“Suffice it to say that the constitution does not impose a timeline on the President to treat with any such recommendation by the JSC, and for good reason. The President must have a higher duty to ensure that the judges he appoints are fit and proper, and were selected and recommended after a transparent process,” Williams said.
He also noted that the recommendations were not triggered by any public advertisement of vacancies in the office of judges and inviting applications for appointments thereto. Under the APNU+AFC government, he added, the days of handpicking and secret overtures to fill vacancies in the office of judges were over.
“The President would be remiss in his duty to the Guyanese people if he were to robotically appoint judges recommended by the JSC without first ascertaining the qualifications, suitability, experience, expertise, integrity and absence of nepotism, among other considerations,” he added.
Williams, however, did not indicate the President’s intended course of action.
Senior Counsel Ralph Ramkarran, in response to Williams’ letter accused him of “shredding the constitution” by stating that the President has discretion in deciding whether to appoint the judges who were recommended.
Ramkarran, in his weekly Conversation Tree column, pointed out that in 2001 the authority of the JSC had been strengthened and the discretion of the President in appointments was removed by the substituting of the word “shall” for “may.”
Ramkarran pointed out that Article 128(1) of the Constitution now provides that judges other than the chancellor and chief justice are appointed by the President “who shall act in accordance with the advice of the Judicial Service Commission.” Article 128(2) also now provides that “the President shall act in accordance with the advice of the Judicial Service Commission and appoint a person to act in the office of Justice of Appeal or Puisne Judge, as the case may be.”
Former AG Anil Nandlall had severely criticized the delay and signalled his intention to file a constitutional motion if the nominees were not appointed within reasonable time.