Jagdeo asks for month to consider judicial nominees

President David Granger (right) greeting Opposition leader Bharrat Jagdeo at State House yesterday. (Ministry of the Presidency photo)

Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo yesterday asked for a month to conduct due diligence checks on President David Granger’s nominee for the position of Chancellor of the Judiciary, Justice Kenneth Benjamin.

The President acquiesced and the two sides will meet again on February 7th when Jagdeo will inform if the nominees for Chancellor and Chief Justice, Justice Yonette Cummings-Edwards meet his approval.

“I asked for an additional month to do my due diligence work before I can consider the candidate,” Jagdeo told Stabroek News yesterday.

Justice Kenneth Benjamin

Sources close to the PPP were quick to point to out that the additional period asked for should in no way be taken to mean that their Party Leader will select the candidate proposed as the checks will determine his (Benjamin’s) suitability.

The President and Opposition Leader yesterday met at State House, Georgetown, with their respective teams, to discuss the appointments of a substantive Chancellor and Chief Justice.

Discussions were also had pertaining to the nominees to the Teaching Service Commission (TSC).

Justice Yonette Cummings-Edwards

Following the meeting, the PPP released a statement informing that the Leader of the Opposition was accompanied by Opposition Chief Whip Gail Teixeira, M.P. and Attorney-at-Law, Priya Manickchand, M.P while the President’s delegation comprised Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs Basil Williams, M.P., and Minister of State, Joseph Harmon, M.P.

The Ministry of the Presidency in a statement after the meeting said that the President had written to the Opposition Leader, informing him of the two persons to be appointed as Chancellor and Chief Justice and submitting their respective resumes.

In a brief comment after the meeting, Harmon informed that the Opposition requested more time to conduct their own due diligence regarding the two nominees. “He requested a month to do due diligence which the President graciously agreed to…and we expect to meet again on February 7, when we will have that matter finalised,” the Minister said.

The two delegations (Ministry of the Presidency photo)

Justice Roxane George, SC is currently the acting Chief Justice. Both She and Justice Cummings-Edwards were appointed in March of last year as part of a temporary arrangement between Granger and Jagdeo. Their predecessors, Justices Carl Singh and Ian Chang SC both retired without being substantively appointed Chancellor and Chief Justice, respectively.

Article 127 (1) of the Constitution stipulates that “the Chancellor and the Chief Justice shall each be appointed by the President, acting after obtaining the agreement of the Leader of the Opposition.”

Granger had last month revealed, during a press conference he held, that the person proposed for the position of Chancellor had accepted the nomination and Jagdeo would be consulted. He did not at that time release the person’s identity nor indicate where the person currently resided.

He had however recalled that while he was Leader of the Opposition, he had met with then President Donald Ramotar but they could not agree on nominations and as such he (Granger) proposed a formula which entailed that the positions be advertised especially in the Anglo-phone Caribbean. He said that Ramotar did not accept that formula but after taking office in 2015, he implemented it and as a result a panel of eminent jurists interviewed some persons who were interested in being appointed to the two posts.

The panel comprises retired justices Claudette Singh and James Patterson along with former Univer-sity of Guyana Vice-Chancellor Harold Lutchman. After reviewing the applicants, the panel’s task was to recommend the most suitable candidates to Granger.

Legal training

According to the Belize Judiciary website, Justice Benjamin received his legal training from the University of the West Indies and the Hugh Wooding Law School in Trinidad and Tobago. It stated that he returned to Guyana where he practiced privately, and served as a Magistrate and the Assistant Judge Advocate for the Guyana Defence Force.

Additionally, Justice Benjamin, 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 in 2011, he served as Chief Magistrate in Antigua and Barbuda. Justice Benjamin, the website said 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.

Since it had become known that Justice Benjamin might be nominated to the post of Chancellor, his record as the Chief Justice in Belize has come under scrutiny. Justice Benjamin has had a backlog of judgments in the CARICOM member and Central American state. This has put him at odds with the bar association there.

It was recently reported in the Belize media that despite assurances Justice Benjamin will be unable to deliver all 32 of his delayed judgments and this could result in the Belize Bar Association making good on its threat to file proceedings to have him removed from office for misconduct.

Amandala newspaper in a December 12 publication reported that Justice Benjamin will be unable to conclude the backlog by the end of the legal year.

TSC

Meanwhile, with regard to the TSC, the Ministry of the Presidency statement noted that Harmon explained that the President had submitted the full list of seven nominees to Jagdeo, with whom he is required to consult. “Of the seven names, the three that were identified by the President, were the subject of the discussions between the two sides. Mr. Jagdeo spoke of a convention whereby the Opposition is allowed to put forward a nomination to the Commission and in the interest of good governance, the President readily agreed,” the statement reads.

“Clearly that is not what the law is, but in so far as us trying to ensure that we have a Commission that is fully representative [of the Guyanese society], the President agreed for the Leader of the Opposition to submit a name that he will consider. So as it is right now, the Commission is not yet established because of the need for the Leader of the Opposition to submit a name, which he has undertaken to have done very shortly because of the need to ensure that we have a Commission to deal with the issues in relation to [the teaching fraternity],” the statement also quotes Harmon as saying.

The provision of a name by the Opposition Leader will signal the end of the necessary consultations on the TSC and the President will then consider the Opposition’s nominee, paving the way for the appointment of this Commission.

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