Acting Chief Justice Roxane George SC and Justice Dawn Gregory were yesterday sworn in as Appellate judges by President David Granger who later assured that government has no interest interfering in the judiciary’s work.
The appointment of these judges brings the number of appellate judges to three; the minimum required to sit at one time. The third appellate judge is acting Chancellor Yonette Cummings-Edwards. The Court of Appeal last sat in February and with the appointment it is expected that the court will resume its work immediately.
In his remarks shortly after the duo had taken their oath of office, Granger said that the installation ceremony of the judges is an affirmation of the Government’s commitment to “ensuring a judicial system that reflects the values of independence, impartiality and integrity”.
The ceremony took place at State House in the presence of senior members of the judiciary, government officials and close relatives of the two justices.
Granger told the small gathering that the Constitution which is the the supreme law protects and preserves the independence, impartiality and integrity of the Judicature.
The supremacy of the Constitution, the legitimacy of government, the efficacy of political democracy and the safety and felicity of the people, he said, would be impossible without the existence of an independent judicature.
“The judicature is fundamental to good governance because it protects the people’s rights and prevents the emergence of autocracy”, he stressed.
According to the president, the Constitution recognises the separate roles and responsibilities of the legislative, executive and judicial branches of government. “The Constitution makes special provisions for protecting the Judicature against the perils of executive domination and legislative encroachment”, he said.
He reminded all that with regards to a ban on the interference in the work of the judiciary. Article 122A (1) states:
“All courts and all persons presiding over the courts shall exercise their functions independently of the control and direction of any other person or authority; and shall be free and independent from political, executive and any other form of direction and control”.
Granger stated that the Executive branch of government has “no interest in interfering in the adjudicatory role of the judiciary”.
The Executive, he said has taken steps to ensure that the judiciary does not feel beholden to the government of the day. “The enactment of the Fiscal Management and Accountability (Amendment) Act of 2015 provided, for the first time, for the financial autonomy of the judiciary in accordance with the Constitution”, he said adding that judicial independence means that the judiciary must be protected from both private and partisan interests, such as from persons or pressure groups, and from the influence and control of the other branches of government.
Judicial independence, he charged is essential to ensure the integrity of the rule of law. The rule of law, Granger noted, requires that everyone should be subject to the law and prescribes that no one should be above the law.
“Judicial independence acts to prevent the derogation from the rule of law. Respect for the rule of law is the foundation of a law-based society, one which can be sustained only by an independent judiciary. The Government will continue to respect judicial independence”, he said.
According to Granger, the Executive branch of government has “no interest in interfering in the work of the judiciary” adding that it seeks, only, the preservation of a judiciary which is unbiased, unblemished and unmindful of personal prejudices.
The judiciary, he charged has a vital role to play in maintaining its own independence. Judicial officers must demonstrate the highest standards of impartiality. He said that they must be rigorous in their research, conscientious in consideration of matters brought before them and cogent in their judgments.
It is an ineffable principle of justice that decisions should be based only on objective criteria, rather than on the basis of bias, betraying improper preference for one person or one group of persons over others, he said.
Turning his attention to the Judicial Service Commission (JSC), Granger said that the Constitution empowers the commission to “…to make appointments…and to remove and to exercise disciplinary control…” over certain judicial and legal officers.
Critics have said that President Granger contravened the independence of the JSC by not accepting the recommendations of the former Chancellor of the Judiciary Carl Singh in respect of appointments to the appellate court. Justice Singh’s nominees to the appeal court comprised Justice Barnes and Justice Rishi Persaud. However, the President refused to act on the nominations made since May 2016 and waited until Chancellor Singh’s exit and the accession of Chancellor Cummings-Edwards before making the appointments where Justice George was substituted for Justice Singh.
“The Commission is expected to be the fearless custodian of the highest standards of judges’ personal conduct. The Commission is obliged to ensure that its recommendations for appointments will be made only on the bases of clearly defined criteria applied in assessing the appropriateness of appointees”, Granger said.
Granger’s comment about the personal conduct of judges comes shortly after his own Attorney General Basil Williams SC was accused by a judge of “despicable” and “contemptuous” behaviour in court. Williams has not been held to account for this behaviour by the President, neither has the Chancellor taken steps to address the judge’s accusation of contemptuous conduct.
Granger noted that people expect that those recommendations will emerge only from a “dispassionate and objective process”. He added that jjudges and magistrates are expected to be exemplars of high moral standards and personal propriety.
“The Government will continue to respect the authority and dignity of the judiciary. The judiciary’s efficiency relies on there being a full complement of judges and magistrates. The Government will support the efforts of the Judicial Service Commission in ensuring that vacancies are filled (and) ensure respect (for) the recommendations for judicial appointments based on the objective criteria which have been prescribed”, he charged.
He added that the JSC is aware that an “ethically compromised judiciary can cripple the institutional mechanisms established by the legislative branch and enforced by the executive branch of Government”.
Five judges make up Guyana’s Appeal Court. The Chief Justice, by virtue of office is a member, the Chancellor of the Judiciary is the President and the three other judges are appointed based on recommendations by the JSC.
The Appeal Court was left in a difficult position following the retirement of acting Chancellor Singh and Justice BS Roy. The court was left without the minimum complement of judges needed to hear matters. Since then Justice Cummings-Edwards has been hearing `in chamber’ matters.
The President at Justice Cummings-Edwards’ swearing in ceremony in late March had acknowledged that there was a shortage of judges and assured that efforts were being made to rectify the situation as soon as possible.
“There is a shortage and we are moving quickly with the Chancellor and the Chief Justice, who have been installed, to have the Court of Appeal constituted; to have the Judicial Service Commission meet to make recommendations and fill the vacancies as soon as possible”, Granger had said.
The opposition People’s Progressive Party has bemoaned the state of affairs in the Appellate Court.
“The impact that this nonfunctional court is having on the justice system, the backlog of cases and the constitutional rights of litigants to have a court ready and able to hear their legal grievances is catastrophic,” former Attorney General Anil Nandlall had said. He had added that this situation can affect lawyers’ ability to file matters in the Caribbean Court of Justice as leave has to be first granted by the Court of Appeal.