Within the past few days, the President’s plan to appoint a Chancellor of the Judiciary has been a topical issue in the news. The Stabroek News has revealed that the favoured candidate is Justice Kenneth Benjamin, who presently heads the judiciary of Belize.
The Ministry of the Presidency makes much of the fact that the President was insistent that the vacant positions of Chancellor and Chief Justice be advertised. Many however see the employment procedure as a smokescreen. Can anyone in the government honestly say to the people of Guyana that Justice Benjamin was not directly approached by government functionaries about the position of Chancellor of the Judiciary in Guyana before the advertisement?
This apart, the judge’s past connections with the GDF as revealed by the local newspapers, is being perceived by ordinary people in Guyana as giving him the edge over judges presently giving distinguished service to the Guyanese judiciary. It has been reported that Justice Benjamin served as an Assistant Judge Advocate to the GDF. He is well known to President Granger. Many, many persons believe that Justice Benjamin is the President’s candidate and that the advertisement and interview procedure are a charade.
Justice Benjamin has impressive scholastic achievements, but as a judge, his record is less than stellar. It is well known he has been delinquent in the delivery of decisions in the cases over which he presided in Belize. The Bar Association there had threatened to ask him to resign if the judgments were not delivered and he did not comply with the schedule. If indeed this is President Granger’s candidate for the office of Chancellor, the question must be asked as to whether with such a record he is a suitable candidate.
It should be pointed out, however, that there was really no need for the President to go the lengths which he did to name a Chancellor and a Chief Justice. The two judges who presently act in those offices are indisputably worthy candidates. Justices Yonette Cummings-Edwards and Roxane George have proven themselves up to the task of effective performance in the offices of Chancellor and Chief Justice respectively. Over the months that they have executed their responsibilities, we have noted their efforts at improvement in the judiciary. The Family Court, the Sexual Offences Court and various training programmes are part of their dedicated efforts to improve our legal system. It is said that the practising Bar fully supports the confirmation of these two judges. Eminent senior counsel, Bryn Pollard and Ralph Ramkarran have spoken about their highly satisfactory performance since they assumed control of the judiciary. They were considered suitable to hold the fort in acting capacities and so I ask, why are they not suitable to be proposed for confirmation? To ignore Justices Cummings-Edwards and George for confirmation is demeaning to these judges. Over the next days, I would expect to see support for them from lawyers individually and through the Bar Association, as well as through the Women Lawyers Association and women groups generally. The call should be for Justice Yonette Cummings-Edwards and Justice Roxane George to be immediately confirmed as Chancellor of the Judiciary and as Chief Justice respectively.