The legal fraternity here in the USA, the Queen’s College of Guyana (QC) alumni, and others, have read the subjective and downright unfair attacks on Justice Kenneth Benjamin’s fitness to be appointed Chancellor of Guyana. While we hold no brief for Mr Benjamin, we should not allow the vitriolic tendency to unjustifiably criticize our own to usurp the consideration, respect and due process he has earned in the selection process.
The legal support staff in the USA, including many law clerks, court attorneys and other personnel, supplement the work of the judges and reduce backlogs efficiently ‒ a vital help since many judges are unduly burdened with constant administrative tasks. The backlog accumulation and budgetary constraints due to a lack of such support is no doubt a recurring problem in many jurisdictions, including the USA and many Commonwealth jurisdictions, especially since the chief justices, ex officio, are required to adjudicate a greater number of cases than other judges.
In a recent article, the Amandala newspaper of Belize stated that “the matter of outstanding judgments by the Supreme Court had come up even prior to Justice Benjamin’s tenure in Belize and that the Bar Association had taken on the Judiciary when Dr Abdulai Conteh served as Chief Justice of Belize, but at the time, the contention was that there were over 50 delayed judgments, with about 60% of those pending from then Supreme Court Justice Samuel Awich…the allegation now is that Justice Benjamin is responsible for the bulk of the pending cases, as the other justices have tried to keep their backlogs to a minimum.”
The most painful delays are wrought in criminal cases, where accused citizens must not be deprived of the fundamentally guaranteed right to a speedy trial. Whereas any delays in any judicial matter are a cause for concern, the paper does not cite any delays in the adjudication of criminal cases by Judge Benjamin. Instead, it reported that “there are several cases for which no decision has been handed down, ranging from personal injury cases to banking matters, including a case involving a challenge to the sale of shares in Belize Telemedia Limited to the Belize Social Security Board.”
In 1973, we were given an unprecedented two consecutive holidays at QC when then alumnus Kenneth Benjamin, and two other sixth formers, were awarded the prestigious Guyana scholarships out of seven national awards for academic excellence.
I remember the pride we felt as QC boys, and the academic impetus our continuing academic dominance brought us, honouring a proud legacy built on the backs of QC alumni, eg, Presidents Cheddi Jagan, Forbes Burnham, David Granger; David Rose, first Governor General; Michael Abbensetts, playwright; E R Braithwaite (To Sir With Love acclaim), novelist; Vibert C Cambridge, media professor; Martin Carter, AJ Seymour, Wordsworth McAndrew, poets; Christopher Nicole, novelist; Walter Farrar, Bishop; Kenneth Stoby, Chancellor; Guy E L de Weever, author of The Children’s Story of Guyana; Rhona Fox, actress; Bruce Pairaudeau, Roger Harper, former West Indies cricketers; Professor E Nigel Harris; Wilson Harris, novelist; Samuel Hinds, Prime Minister; Habeeb Khan, comedian; Lionel Luckhoo, lawyer; Shridath Ramphal, international diplomat; Trevor Phillips, British politician; Nadia Ramdin, haematologist and medical oncologist; Walter Rodney, historian; Gordon Rohlehr, scholar; Keith E Wilson, NASA/JPL physicist; Fred Wills, Rashleigh Jackson, diplomats; Rupert Roopnaraine, lecturer; Norman Beaton, actor; Rayman Gajraj, Mayor and many others too numerous to mention and recall.
This was a brilliant start to his legal career, which became further embellished with many outstanding appointments. Justice Benjamin received his legal training from the University of the West Indies and the Hugh Wooding Law School in Trinidad and Tobago, and then returned to Guyana where he practised privately, and served as a magistrate and the Assistant Judge Advocate for the Guyana Defence Force. ‘Benjie,’ as he is affectionately called by many, served on the Court of Appeal in the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court, sitting in both St Lucia and St Vincent. He also served as the Presiding Judge for the Criminal Division of the High Court in St Lucia and the High Court Judge in Antigua, British Virgin Islands and Grenada. Prior to his CJ appointment in Belize, he served as Chief Magistrate in Antigua and Barbuda, and he is a member of the Commonwealth Magistrates and Judges Association, a former Rotarian, a former cricket executive in Antigua and a Fellow of the Commonwealth Judicial Education Institute.
However, it is as an empathetic, knowledgeable, yet humble advocate, that we remember Judge Benjamin, who like Ashton Chase, SC, Ralph Ramkarran SC, Vidyanand Persaud SC, Judge Prem Persaud, Judge Cecil Kennard and Judge Loris Ganpatsingh, to name a few, was always willing to advise or assist less accomplished members of the legal profession. Indeed, any of these would have made exemplary Chancellors, but some are now unavailable due to the passage of Father Time or other considerations.
Judge Benjamin is certainly qualified, experienced, temperamentally suited and independent-minded for the Chancellor’s position, and, with all due respect to them, brings more to the table than many of his predecessors and rivals, and deserves due consideration.
Being a dual citizen of Guyana and Antigua is an asset, as he may not be vulnerable to either intrinsic and/or extrinsic pressures or considerations, a debilitating disability I have seen and experienced in many a judge.