Guyanese Caribbean jurist leads choices for Chancellor position

A distinguished Guyanese jurist based in the Caribbean is the top pick for the substantive Chancellor post, according to well-placed sources, who have posited that he is an excellent choice.

In January this year, government advertised for suitable persons to apply for the posts of Chancellor and Chief Justice. Subsequently Justices Yonette Cummings-Edwards and Roxane George were sworn in by President David Granger as acting Chancellor and acting Chief Justice respectively. Since then there has been no word about any consultations between Granger and Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo with respect to having substantive appointments for the positions. Under Article 127(1) of the Constitution, the President needs to obtain the agreement of the Opposition Leader to appoint both office holders following consultations.

Minister of State Joseph Harmon had said in March that a panel comprising retired justices Claudette Singh and James Patterson along with former University of Guyana Vice Chancellor Harold Lutchman was set up to review the applications received.

It is unclear how many persons in total have applied and how many are local.

Sources informed Sunday Stabroek that the jurist, who holds a high-ranking judicial post in a Caricom member state would most likely be chosen as Granger’s nominee. The jurist is Guyanese by birth and has a career spanning approximately 40 years.

Sunday Stabroek was also told that another Caribbean jurist who is also Guyanese by birth was initially being considered. This jurist is an appellate judge, has held a number of other positions during an approximately 30-year career and has worked in at least two Caricom member states.

According to one source, Justice Cummings-Edwards still has about 13 years remaining before reaching the 65 years retirement age for Chancellor.

The source said that if appointed, she may be the longest serving substantive Chancellor in Guyana’s history. Justice Cummings-Edwards is also an appellate judge and if not appointed to the substantive post she will still hold that portfolio.

Meanwhile, this newspaper was told that a well-known High Court judge is among the applicants for the post of Chief Justice.

About a month ago, Jagdeo, when approached had said that while he has not received any correspondence from Granger, there must be collaboration, understanding and partnership in resolving this issue.

Many observers have expressed concern that given previous happenings, the two sides may never reach a consensus, which will result in persons acting in those posts until they retire from office. This happened in the case of former acting Chief Justice Ian Chang and former acting Chancellor Carl Singh. Justice Singh who retired in February was appointed to act in the position in 2005.

Meanwhile, the appointments of Justices Cummings-Edwards and George to act in the respective posts came after Jagdeo agreed to forego formalities since Granger was preparing to leave the country on official business and the judiciary was without a head, as Justice Singh had retired days earlier.

A release from Jagdeo’s office issued on March 1, stated that during a meeting with the President, the Leader of the Opposition indicated that he would not insist on the formalities of a letter accompanied by the names of the President’s nominees along with curriculum vitae, “as is the practice which has evolved… in keeping with the letter and spirit of the Constitution.” Jagdeo indicated that his reason for dispensing with formality was because filling the vacancy was of national importance and the President’s departure for overseas was imminent. Granger left for the Bahamas the following day.

The President had proposed Justice Cummings-Edwards who was then performing the functions of Chief Justice, to act in the position of Chancellor of the Judiciary and Justice George to act in the office of Chief Justice. Jagdeo informed the President that he required one week to offer his views on those proposals.

It was at this point that Jagdeo raised the issue of absence of action with regard to the nominations from the previous Judicial Service Commission and Granger promised that matter would be addressed during a meeting scheduled for one week later. There is nothing to suggest that the issue of the substantive appointments was discussed at that or any subsequent meeting.

When Sunday Stabroek asked Jadgeo last month if he now believed he was misled, particularly given that the two appointments were made temporarily to fill an urgent need, he responded, “You see, I don’t like to ascribe ill motives to the President without him giving an explanation… that is why I have been calling for the President to hold press conferences.

“At a press conference of the nature of the one that I just concluded, you could have asked him this and he would have given a response, but he insulates himself from these issues. I shouldn’t have to push all of these issues.”

Jagdeo had said he was disappointed at the way the situation was being handled, given that one would not want a state of affairs similar to those of Justices Carl Singh and Ian Chang who retired without being confirmed.

“… And this is why on these matters there has to be some give and take. Because if we have the veto now, like they did, and we exercised that veto in a manner that is partisan then you would have a similar situation… We feel he [Granger] is doing the same thing in relation to Gecom,” he had said.

A legal source had called for patience and for all to respect the new process. The lawyer had told Sunday Stabroek that the Constitution does not prescribe a timeframe within which these appointments must be made. He said that while the situation with Justices Chang and Singh was not right, the current delay has to be put into context.

“Granger has been in office for 25 months… He cannot be expected to change things overnight, we have to get pass quick fixes,” the attorney said while agreeing that it was unreasonable to have a judge acting in the capacity of Chancellor for more than a decade without confirming him.

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