I write in relation to a story in yesterday’s edition of the Kaieteur News captioned ‘Overseas-based nominee for Chancellor post identified’.
This story raises several deeply troubling issues. It reports that the President informed the media that a nominee for the position of Chancellor of the Judiciary had been identified, and he has been approached. While I wish President David Granger and his administration well, his advisors seem to have let him down here.
The present Chancellor, the Honourable Madame Yonette Cummings-Edwards appears to be performing creditably, unless the President has some hint to the contrary. But in the absence of any information of this nature, she appears to be doing a reasonable job. Nor is there any question of her unsuitability because of her scholarship. Justice Cummings-Edwards has sat in the Court of Appeal for several years now, and in the course of doing so, has given a number of decisions that have been upheld by our highest court, the Caribbean Court of Justice. I can see no good reason in that regard for the President not to seek to have her confirmed in the present position.
There is also another aspect of this unfortunate situation. If this overseas selectee is preferred, what is to happen to Justice Cummings-Edwards? Is she to resume her former position as Chief Justice? And if so, what is to become of the other judge presently sitting in that position, the Honourable Madame Justice Roxanne George-Wiltshire? Who is by all accounts also doing a very creditable job in the High Court. Is she to revert to the status of a mere puisne judge again? I believe that would be inelegant, and a rather regrettable step. There is also the further concern that by doing so, President Granger may inadvertently expose himself to the accusation (however misconceived) that he is doing so in retaliation for some of the Chief Justice’s recent rulings that have not been in favour of the administration. Again, this would be a most unfortunate perception, however unwarranted, and he should strive to avoid this.
Finally, what signal will this send to the puisne judges of the High Court? That no matter how diligently they work and acquit themselves they may never rise to the pinnacle of their professions? This may be a disincentive to them and result in a less able judiciary. I close by recalling that the former Prime Minister, LFS Burnham always boasted that he was able in large part to depart the Privy Council and move to a Republic in 1970 due to the strength of his Court of Appeal, at that time arguably the strongest Court of Appeal in the Commonwealth Caribbean.
B T I Pollard, SC