Almost a year after the life of the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) came to an end, State Minister Joseph Harmon assured on Monday that efforts are afoot to have it reconstituted.
“Yes that is something that is receiving active consideration”, he said when asked during a post-cabinet press briefing, whether this issue has been discussed at cabinet level.
Harmon pointed out that only recently some persons who will serve on the Com-mission were appointed, including the Chairman of the Public Service Commission (PSC). He expressed the view that “very shortly”, a JSC will be in place.
The composition of the JSC is set out in Article 198 of the Constitution. It states that the members of the Commission shall be the Chancellor, who is the chairman, Chief Justice, Chairman of the PSC and such other members appointed in accordance with provisions listed in Section 2 of that Article.
The members, it states, shall be appointed by the President as follows, that is to say “(a) one from among persons who hold or have held office as a judge of a court having unlimited jurisdiction in civil and criminal matters in some part of the Commonwealth or a court having jurisdiction in appeals from any such court acting after meaningful consultations with the leader of the Opposition and (b) not less than one and not more than two from among persons who are not attorneys-at-law in active practice after the National Assembly has meaningfully consulted such bodies as appear to it to represent attorneys-at-law in Guyana and signified its choice of members to the President, after the President has also consulted such bodies as appear to him to represent attorneys-at-law in Guyana…”.
Harmon’s assurances came days after attorney Anil Nandlall took to social media to express concern.
Nandlall, a former Minister of Legal Affairs and a former Attorney General said that without fail, every time the tenure of a Constitutional Commission expires, or is not properly constituted, I have to inform the Coalition Government of that fact and remind them that they are mandated by the Constitution to rectify the situation” before questioning whether amnesia, incompetence or indifference is the cause of this continuing situation.
“Once again, the burden is mine to remind them that there is currently no properly constituted Judicial Service Commission. This position has obtained for several months now. So as a result of this constitutional vacuum, no judges or magistrate can be appointed”, he said.
“That this is the highest paid Cabinet in Guyana’s history and one of the largest governments on Planet Earth makes the situation even more lamentable. Hope-fully, this post will motivate them into action!” he said in a Facebook post last Friday.
In July, Nandlall had also raised the issue and accused government of making no attempt to reconstitute the Commission.
“Since, this Administration assumed the reins of executive Government, it has been in constant confrontation or at a minimum, uneasy peace with the Judicial Service Commission. I have written several articles detailing the Attorney General’s public refusal to recognise the JSC’s constitutional power to appoint certain officers within the Deeds and Commercial Registry Authority and his refusal to allow those officers to discharge their functional responsibilities”, he said in a letter which was published in the July 18 edition of this newspaper.
Nandlall also reminded that he had written several articles highlighting the President’s failure to act, for nearly a year, upon recommendations made by the then JSC to elevate certain puisne Judges to the Court of Appeal and to elevate and to appoint persons as High Court Judges and Commissioners of Title.
“The shocking response of the Government to my criticisms was that the Constitution does not stipulate any time period for the President to act upon these recommendations. Those who truly understand the language and spirit of the Constitution and the law would tell you that the President is expected to act in those circumstances with every convenient speed. Many have drawn the reasonable inference that the presidential delay was deliberate and intended to await the retirement of certain members of the then JSC”, he had pointed out.
Noting that the life of the last JSC expired on 30th September 2017, Nandlall had pointed out that up to the time of him penning the letter he was unaware of any discernible steps being taken to reconstitute the JSC.
“As a result, there has been a huge constitutional vacuum. No coroner, nor magistrate nor judge could have been, or can now, be appointed. There are two Judges who are currently sitting in the Guyana Court of Appeal who were appointed to act as Justices of Appeal for specified periods. Those appointments will expire within a month. There is no JSC, which can recommend an extension or their replacements. The Attorney General appears blissfully unconcerned about this deplorable state of affairs and seems preoccupied with a countrywide campaign to re-elect himself as chairman of the PNC ( R) ”, he had argued.
The judges to whom he referred were Senior Counsel Rafiq Khan and Arif Bulkan.
Before its life expired, the commission had recommended that High Court Judge Rishi Persaud be elevated to an Appeal Court judge and attorneys Simone Morris-Ramlall, Damone Younge, Sandil Kissoon and Gino Persaud appointed Puisne Judges. This was accepted by the President, before whom they all took the oath of office in July last year.
The members of the Commission were Chancellor of the Judiciary (ag) Justice Yonette Cummings-Edwards, Chief Justice (ag), Justice Roxane George, Chairman (ag) of the PSC Patrick Yarde, Justice Prem Persaud and Justice Lennox Perry.