Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo said yesterday that President David Granger’s recent pronouncement that the way forward on top judicial appointments is in his (Jagdeo’s) court, caught him off guard and at the moment he cannot find words to express his shock.
“I have no words to respond to a person who cannot seem to remember his last public statement on the matter. I made my position clear and he said he was waiting for advice. I can’t respond to a man who can’t remember his last statement”, Jagdeo said in a brief telephone interview with Stabroek News.
He said that he will comment further on the issue today when he returns from Suriname where he has gone to meet the relatives of the victims of the recent piracy attack.
“The ball is in the court of the Leader of the Opposition. I have made my proposals to him, he simply rejected them. He has not made any counterproposals so there is nothing to discuss”, the President told reporters during a brief interview last Thursday following the conclusion of the opening ceremony of the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force (CTATF) workshop for judges and prosecutors.
Granger in January informed Jagdeo that his choice for Chancellor of the Judiciary was Belizean Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin, while acting Chancellor Yonette Cummings-Edwards was his nominee for Chief Justice. The two met on the issue and Jagdeo at that forum asked for some time to deliberate on the matter. On February 7th, 2018, by way of letter, Jagdeo informed Granger of his disagreement with the nominees.
Article 127 (1) of the Constitution states that both sides must agree on the nominees before the substantive appointments can be made. “The Chancellor and the Chief Justice shall each be appointed by the President, acting after obtaining the agreement of the Leader of the Opposition,” it states.
Granger stated on Thursday that he had hoped that they would have been able to move forward and “make substantive appointments at this stage but I have to depend on his compliance”.
Since Jagdeo rejected the two nominees, observers have noted that it is the President who should initiate the next step either making different recommendations or further discussing with the Opposition Leader the original nominees.
Days after the rejection, Granger had said “Well, I have to be advised by my Minister of Legal Affairs and Attorney General. We cannot be without a Chancellor and Chief Justice and right now two persons are acting and I had hoped that we could have moved forward by having a substantive or a full time appointment agreed but this has not happened and the constitution requires me to await the approval of the Leader of the Opposition. [That] hasn’t come, so I would have to depend on legal advice and make sure that the courts continue to function”.
When asked about the legal advice sought, Granger responded “I know what needs to be done. I am well advised but I have to wait on the Leader of the Opposition to respond to my proposals”.
Attorney General Basil Williams SC who is the person to have given the advice to the Granger and Minister of State, Joseph Harmon have both declined to speak on the issue, saying that it is up to the president to comment on the legal advice he had sought.
Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) President Sir Dennis Byron a week ago reiterated the importance of having substantive judicial appointments and called for the impasse between Granger and Jagdeo to be resolved soonest.
“It is much too long for a country to be without a Chancellor and a Chief Justice and I think it’s important for that situation to be suspended as soon as possible,” Sir Dennis had told the Sunday Stabroek shortly after delivering a lunchtime keynote address at the 3rd International Conference on Commercial Arbitration last month.
Justice Cummings-Edwards and acting Chief Justice Roxane George were appointed last year, weeks after the retirement of then acting Chancellor Carl Singh. Chancellor Singh was the acting head of the Judiciary for about 12 years. Granger, the then Opposition Leader had refused to agree to Chancellor Singh’s substantive appointment saying that that position as well as the Chief Justice’s post must first be advertised in the interest of transparency before there is any confirmation. The then PPP/C government had argued that such a process was not catered for.