It seems as if problems are ahead between the government and the opposition, and there might be a confrontation with the government and the judiciary. This of course does not augur well for the future of the country. The latest is that Attorney General Basil Williams, recently elevated to Senior Counsel, is at loggerheads with acting Chancellor Carl Singh. He has made it quite clear that he does not want him to preside at the appeal filed by the government against the decision given by the former acting Chief Justice Ian Chang in which he ruled that Bharrat Jagdeo is eligible to run for a third term as President.
The appeal was filed 17 months ago, and Chancellor Singh wants to conclude the matter before he goes into retirement next month. Williams, however, has requested an adjournment, obviously to a date when the Court of Appeal will be reconstituted with a new Chancellor and maybe another new judge. The reason given for the Attorney General’s adjournment is that there is no Solicitor General to argue the appeal.
Perhaps I should mention that legal experts feel that there are good grounds to allow the appeal. In any event, the government should not be too bothered about the ruling by the Court of Appeal because unlike in the 1970s, 1980s,1990s and onwards, the decision can be appealed to the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ).
During three-and-a-half decades the Guyana Court of Appeal was the final court. It was not until April 2005 with the establishment of the CCJ that decisions of the Appellate Court could be overruled.
The learned Attorney General apparently held the view that Chancellor Singh wanted to prolong his stay at the helm by starting new cases, and would need more time to conclude them after his retirement age. It should be pointed out that Chancellor Singh has been acting for more than 12 years without being confirmed in that position.
There was a similar situation in Belize seven years ago when Prime Minister Dean Barrow felt that then Chief Justice Abdulai Conteh, wanted to remain on the bench after he reached the retirement age of 65. He asked me as Solicitor General to advise the Chief Justice that the government had no intention of offering him a contract and he should not start new cases and work towards concluding all his part heard matters.
According to press reports, the Court of Appeal is proceeding with the appeal and will make a ruling on February 15.
There are other problems: Williams has accused the Judicial Services Commission (JSC) of secretly appointing judges, The basis of his accusation is that the JSC has not been advertising for judges. It is understood that the JSC has never done so, but President David Granger strongly feels that vacancies for judges should be advertised. In fact the positions of Chancellor and Chief Justice have just been advertised.
Another issue is whether a “fit and proper person” other than a judge can be appointed Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission. Mr Jagdeo wants the CCJ to issue a legal opinion on the matter.