While stating that he is deeply concerned about the significant gap in the appointment of a substantive Chancellor of the Judiciary and Chief Justice, President David Granger yesterday said that he is working to have this issue resolved at the earliest opportunity.
Speaking during his second press conference since he took office in May 2015 and which lasted for one hour, Granger revealed that the person proposed for the position of Chancellor has accepted the nomination and Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo will be consulted. He did not release the person’s identify nor indicate where the person currently resides.
“I am working to have this matter resolved as early as possible. Once the person is in the country, I am prepared to meet with the Leader of the Opposition as required by the Constitution”, he said in response to questions on the issue at the Ministry of the Presidency.
On October 6, Granger had informed that a Caribbean jurist of Guyanese descent had been nominated for the substantive post of Chancellor and he had explained that he was awaiting a response from him before he schedules a meeting with Jagdeo.
Article 127 (1) of the Constitution stipulates that “the Chancellor and the Chief Justice shall each be appointed by the President, acting after obtaining the agreement of the Leader of the Opposition.”
Granger recalled that while he was Leader of the Opposition, he had met with then president Donald Ramotar but they could not agree on nominations and as such he (Granger) proposed a formula which entailed that the positions be advertised especially in the Anglophone Caribbean. He said that Ramotar did not accept that formula but after taking office in 2015, he implemented it and as a result a panel of eminent jurists interviewed some persons who were interested in being appointed to the two posts.
The panel comprises retired justices Claudette Singh and James Patterson along with former University of Guyana Vice-Chancellor Harold Lutchman. After reviewing the applicants, the panel’s task was to recommend the most suitable candidates to Granger.
Granger said that nominations were made and that contact was made with those persons. Specifically as it relates to the position of Chancellor, he said that that person has accepted his nomination and that government was now looking “at the modalities for the termination of the work he is doing now in the country of residence”.
It is unclear why the President would be countenancing modalities for the termination of the work that the candidate is doing when he first requires approval from the Opposition Leader.
This newspaper was previously told that the nominee for the Chancellor’s post is a jurist who holds a high-ranking judicial post in a Caricom member state. The jurist has a career spanning approximately 40 years. Based on what this newspaper was told, he is 61 years old. The mandatory retirement age from judicial office is 65.
This newspaper was also told that another Caribbean jurist, who is also Guyanese by birth, was initially being considered. This jurist, a woman, is an appellate judge and has held a number of other positions during an approximately 30-year-long career and has worked in at least two Caricom member states including Guyana.
While there are no available details on who the nominee for the Chief Justice‘s position is, this newspaper was previously told that a well-known High Court judge is among the applicants.
The acting Chancellor is Justice Yonette Cummings-Edwards and the acting Chief Justice is Justice Roxane George, SC. Both women were appointed in March this year as part of a temporary arrangement between Granger and Jagdeo. Their predecessors, Justices Carl Singh and Ian Chang SC both retired without being substantively appointed Chancellor and Chief Justice, respectively.
Delivering the keynote address at the 37th Annual Bar Dinner last month, the CCJ President Sir Dennis Byron had said it was disappointing that no substantive Chancellor has been appointed after Justice Desiree Bernard’s departure and noted that having both offices being led by judges acting in respective capacities is “a most unfortunate state of affairs.”
Asked about this yesterday Granger said that the situation concerns him and he is working to have it rectified.
“This is a matter of deep concern to me”, he stressed.
Sir Dennis added “The delay in complying with section 127(1) of the Constitution has long reached a level of justiciability and the most appropriate authority for resolving this situation is the court system,”.
He noted that despite the subjective component of reaching agreement, the constitution could not have intended the decade-long paralysis that has resulted from the failure to agree.
The judge also lamented the inability of successive presidents and opposition leaders to agree on appointing a substantive Chancellor of the Judiciary, while warning that prolonged acting appointments pose a genuine “risk” to the promise to citizens of an independent and impartial judiciary.
Jagdeo recently said that it is the president who has to make the first move to resolve the decade-long failure to appoint a substantive Chancellor and Chief Justice and he warned that he will not allow himself to be coerced into accepting nominees just to fix the situation.
“Now we have two persons who are acting in the position(s). As you would recognize, this is not a new situation. It’s not desirable but it’s how it has been for a long time in our history… just to have a substantive nominee. I am not going to promise now that any names that the president submits to me, that I will automatically give my approval for those names,” Jagdeo told this newspaper.