Three retired judges in running to head police complaints body

Retired Justices BS Roy, William Ramlal and Claudette La Bennett have been recommended to head the Police Complaints Authority (PCA), which has been without a chairperson for more than a year.

A source knowledgeable of the ongoing process to fill the vacancy told Sunday Stabroek that President David Granger asked several persons, including two of his ministers, to submit names to him. Names have been submitted and it is expected that this will be given some consideration after the president’s return this weekend from official duties in London.

It was stressed to this newspaper that the appointment is a presidential one and therefore no one can force Granger’s hand. A source indicated that the Justices Roy, Ramlal and La Bennett are excellent choices and each stands a chance of being selected.

Under the PCA Act, it is the sole responsibility of the president to appoint a PCA chairperson from persons who are qualified to be a puisne judge of the High Court.

Last February, Justice (retired) Cecil Kennard, who had been chairman since 2002, was forced to step down by Granger because of his advanced age. At the time, he was almost 80 years old.

Kennard was initially given 36 hours to demit office, however he was given an extension after the intervention of Public Security Minister Khemraj Ramjattan.

Many had argued that it was strange that Kennard was “forced” out of office and no arrangements were made to ensure that the post was quickly filled. The PCA is the only independent body vested with the powers to investigate complaints against the police. Since Kennard’s removal from office, there have been several high profile incidents, such as the shooting to death of three men by the police on the seawall. Under normal circumstances, the men’s relatives, some of whom have publicly dismissed the police’s version of events, could have lodged a complaint with PCA, resulting in an investigation. With the PCA without a head, the Guyana Police Force’s Office of Professional Responsibly (OPR) is currently the only body conducting investigations into instances of alleged misconduct committed by ranks.

President Granger has faced criticism over the decision to force Kennard to step down and then failing to fill the vacancy.

At the time, he had said that Kennard’s removal was part of his administration’s move to establish an age limit for membership of state boards, agencies and commissions, in order to pave the way for younger persons to take the lead.

“So it is not a criticism of his [Kennard’s] service but there will be a general order explaining our policy on age and retirement for agencies, boards and commissions but at the same time we hope to give other persons an opportunity to serve so that over a period of time we build up expertise in the younger generations too. So, it is not a criticism of Justice Kennard. There will be further information but nobody is being purged. We are simply trying to give other persons the ability to serve,” Granger said after being questioned then about Kennard’s removal.

Granger, however, subsequently did an about face on the claimed age policy when he appointed Justice James Patterson, 84, to head the Guyana Elections Commission.

Ramjattan in February this year had indicated that the appointment of a Chairperson would soon be made. He had said then that some recommendations were given to Minister of State Joseph Harmon and that an assessment of the names would be done.

When contacted about the issue a few weeks ago, Ramjattan expressed concern at the growing amount of time that the post is being allowed to remain vacant. He, however, informed that despite the present situation, complaints were still being made to the PCA. “The very important appointment has not been made yet and that will have to be made as early as possible,” he said. “In the absence of the Chairman, hardly anything can be done. Of course, the decision as to whether the complaints have merit is a decision of the chairman,” he pointed out.

Ramjattan stressed that he is very concerned at the state of things. “I am very concerned yes but I suppose we are gonna deal with that next week or so. Of course, I will try to raise it,” he said, while pointing out that of recent government has been dealing with a number of issues, which require “a lot of work.”

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