It was President David Granger who selected current Chief Justice of Belize, Justice Kenneth Benjamin to be the nominee for Chancellor of the Judiciary, following a report from the committee that he set up to help narrow down the applicants.
Stabroek News was told by sources close to the process that Justice Benjamin’s score was not the highest as the committee used a points-based system to rank applicants and submitted their report with all the names and the points scored to the President.
The points accrued by an applicant were based on a checklist that dealt with experience, legal knowledge, management skills, suitability and their personality and approach to legal problem solving among other areas.
The issue of Justice Benjamin’s record pertaining to having a backlog of decisions in Belize was not looked at specifically but was dealt with in the context of identifying a candidate who can ensure that the large pile of pending cases here be expedited and new cases be looked at with alacrity.
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 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 for some cases it said dates back to 2011, the year he was appointed.
Based on questions from another media outfit, News5, Attorney General (AG), Michael Peyrefitte indicated that it would have been too difficult for the CJ to complete all 32 judgments within the limited timeframe. The CJ had indicated that he would have completed the backlogged cases by December 15.
“But a couple weeks ago, he told me that he had full intention of completing at least twenty-two of them. Yesterday, he told me that he did complete twenty-two of the judgments, and so he is still ten short; but out of the thirty-two, we can say that he has concluded a significant number of those judgments,” Peyrefitte was quoted as saying.
Reports here that Justice Benjamin would be proposed as Chancellor have sparked an outpouring of calls for Chancellor (acting) Yonette Cummings-Edwards to be confirmed in that position and for Justice Roxane George to be confirmed as Chief Justice.
But one source said that with Guyana, like other sister Caricom countries, suffering the same backlog problem it was felt that the President would use his judgement to select a person from the nominees in the report he felt confident can address and resolve the issue.
“The Committee submitted a report not a conclusive decision of who should be candidate. It was not a commission but a committee and it was the President’s job, along with that person who guides him legally, to select a suitable person,” the source said.
“If the decision management body selects Justice Benjamin then there is nothing the committee can do…,” the source added.
The source said that the decision on Justice Benjamin being selected for the post rests now with the Leader of the Opposition Bharrat Jagdeo, who by law has to agree to the choice for the post.
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.”
Last Wednesday Jagdeo and Granger met to discuss the selection but Jagdeo asked for a month to conduct his due diligence on the nominee. His request was granted and the two sides will meet again on February 7th.
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 practised 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.