I have been reading newspaper reports about Kenneth Benjamin being identified to be Chancellor of the Judiciary, and I am bothered about the adverse comments. Some are totally inaccurate and I felt that I should do a piece to clear the air, since I know some of the facts because I worked as Solicitor General in Belize for two years and know government officials as well as lawyers in that country.
It seems as if the Guyanese-born Benjamin was caught up with the politics in Belize and some of the opposition lawyers are trying to make life difficult for him. It is true that he has been tardy in writing judgments, but it is not that he is lazy, but rather that he was caught up with administrative work as Chief Justice, and unlike other heads of judiciary, he has been hearing cases every day like any other judge. In addition, he has introduced significant reforms, and from what I was told by senior lawyers he has placed Belize on the map with respectability. He introduced Mediation, Arbitration, Criminal Procedure Rules, among other initiatives.
As Chief Justice he chairs the General Legal Council which hears complaints against lawyers. He also serves as Chairman of the Judicial and Legal Services Commission (JLSC) and that entails a lot of work. I know this for a fact because I was a member for two years. I was advised by an executive member of the Bar Association that CJ Benjamin has almost completed the backlog of his outstanding judgments.
The Guyana press has not been fair to Justice Benjamin. He was never an officer of the Guyana Defence Force (GDF), but served as a part-time Judge Advocate to determine complaints against army officers. I am aware of this because I was in Guyana at the time attached to the law firm of Clark and Martin, and Justice Benjamin was assistant to Donald Robinson, SC who was the senior Judge Advocate at the time. I think he served as Assistant Judge Advocate for less than two years. He was never a soldier.
Two senior Counsel, Bryn Pollard, and Ralph Ramkarran, expressed concern about the future of the current acting Chancellor, Yonette Cummings Edwards and acting Chief Justice Roxane George Wiltshire and asked what would be their attitude towards Benjamin if appointed to head the judiciary. These two learned judges have the greatest respect for Justice Benjamin. They know that their mentor, former Chancellor Desiree Bernard has the greatest admiration for the Guyana scholar who took over her legal practice when she was elevated to the Bench in 1980.
Perhaps I should mention that Mr Ramkarran knows Justice Benjamin’s ability. He never questioned it. In fact he said he is “no doubt… qualified for the job.”
All in all, Leader of the Opposition Bharrat Jagdeo, must agree before a permanent appointment of Chancellor can be made. There was a deadlock between the President and Leader of the Opposition for the past 12 years hence the reason why no Chancellor was appointed since Justice Bernard resigned in 2005 to join the Caribbean Court of Justice. I sincerely hope that Mr Jagdeo does not have any objection to the brilliant and fair-minded candidate. He is non-political and will serve the country well as head of the judiciary.