CCJ is vigilant about judicial independence

Dear Editor,

The Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) is vigilant as regards the method of the appointment of judges and the independence of the judiciary in the region. Last Tuesday the regional court criticized the system by which appellate court judges are appointed in Belize. Although the CCJ judges did not entertain the appeal filed by the Bar Association against the Attorney General of Belize, they expressed displeasure with the present arrangement for the appointment of a Justice of Appeal.

At present under section 94 of the Constitution of Belize Chapter 4 Appellate Court judges are appointed by the Governor General acting on the advice of the Prime Minister given after consultation with the Leader of the Opposition, and is for such period as may be  specified in the instrument of appointment.

I should state that since there is no fixed time in the appointment, the judges’ tenure is at the whim and fancy of the executive. This does not find favour with the CCJ which stated in its judgment that justices of appeal should be in a similar position to Supreme Court Judges with an independent appointing body and tenure until retirement age. The CCJ also recommended that shorter periods of tenure should be offered to appointees over the age of 75.

In  Belize, judges, magistrates and legal officers are appointed by the Judicial and Legal Services Commission (JLSC), which comprises the Chief Justice (Chairman), the Solicitor General, the President of the Public Service Commission and a representative from the Bar Association.  Perhaps I should add that Belize is the only jurisdiction in the region where lawyers have a say in the appointment of judges and legal officers.

The Guyana Government is expected to appoint a new Chancellor who will replace Carl Singh who has been acting as Chancellor for the past 13 years, but his appointment was not confirmed since the then Leader of the Opposition did not agree to his confirmation. Ian Chang who acted as Chief Justice for more than 11 years was not confirmed either because there was also no agreement. In fact Justice Chang went into retirement a year ago without being confirmed and Yonette Cummings-Edwards has been appointed as acting Chief Justice.

In the light of the political climate in Guyana it is not likely that there will be an agreement between the President and Leader of the Opposition to the appointment of the Chancellor and Chief Justice and therefore they might have to act until an agreement is reached … if it will ever be reached. So sad and unfortunate. Guyana is the only country in the region where there must be an agreement between the President and Leader of the Opposition. This was only changed in 2002. Previously it was merely a matter of consultation like other jurisdictions in the region. It seems as if the Co-operative Republic has to be different from other countries.

Guyana is the only country in the Commonwealth where the judiciary is headed by a Chancellor and not the Chief Justice. In July 1966 when the Court of Appeal of Guyana was established, Forbes Burnham who was Prime Minister and Head of Government was not happy for the then Chief Justice Sir Joseph Luckhoo to continue to head the judiciary. He then appointed Guyanese Sir Kenneth Stoby who was Chief Justice of Barbados to the top job and renamed the position Chancellor of the Judiciary and President of the Court of Appeal.

However judges (except the Chancellor and Chief Justice) in Guyana are appointed by the Judicial Services Commission which is headed by the Chancellor.

Yours faithfully,

Oscar Ramjeet


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