Expressing concern that there has been no appointment of a substantive Chancellor since she gave up the post 13 years ago, Justice Désirée Bernard last evening called for the appointment of both a substantive Chancellor and Chief Justice.
“All I can say is that I hope that they are appointed as early as possible…,” Justice Bernard told Stabroek News last evening, moments after launching her book, “Reflections and Opinions,” which is a collection of speeches and presentations.
Justice Bernard, the first female Chancellor of Guyana and in the Commonwealth Caribbean, left the post in 2005 to take up a position on the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), where she served until her retirement in 2014.
Earlier in her remarks to an audience at Herdmanston Lodge filled with legal luminaries, Justice Bernard hinted her dissatisfaction with the current situation, while speaking highly of Chief Justice (ag) Roxane George, who had introduced her. Justice George and acting Chancellor Justice Yonette Cummings-Edwards have been acting in their respective posts for more than a year.
Justice Bernard expressed hope during her remarks that the two women “would be confirmed sooner rather than later.” Later after the launch and book signing had ended, Stabroek News approached Justice Bernard, who said that disappointed was too strong a word to use to express her feelings about the situation. It was more of a concern to her, she said. “I can only hope that they will be appointed as early as possible,” she reiterated.
Asked if she favours the two women for the posts, she responded, “Whoever applies …the vacancies need to be filled…substantially.”
Previous calls have been made for President David Granger and the Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo to settle the ongoing impasse and make substantive appointments.
CCJ President Justice Adrian Saunders and his predecessor Sir Dennis Bryon have publicly described the situation as unacceptable.
Sir Dennis, the then CCJ president, while delivering the keynote address at 37th Annual Bar Association Dinner last November, had said that it was disappointing that no substantive Chancellor has been appointed after Bernard’s departure and noted that having both offices being led by judges acting in the respective capacities is “a most unfortunate state of affairs.”
He had bemoaned the inability of successive presidents and opposition leaders to agree on appointing a substantive Chancellor of the Judiciary, while warning that prolonged acting appointments pose a genuine “risk” to the promise to citizens of an independent and impartial judiciary.
“With the passage of 12 years, the undesirability of further delay could no longer be controversial. This is a very serious issue because attacking the problems of delay and all other issues that need reform requires strong leadership,” Sir Dennis had said. “It is simply obvious that a leader who is not appointed is under a disadvantage, and criticisms of the sector need to be received with the knowledge of the impediment that is placed on the leadership of the institution, an impediment which the Constitution specifically frowns on,” he added.
He had called on “the high officials of our community” to execute their constitutional duty and appoint the highest judicial officials, as an important element in guaranteeing judicial independence to citizens.
He reiterated his position when he turned to Guyana in late April.
Justice Saunders, while speaking at a University of Guyana (UG) organised forum in May, made it clear that the failure to rectify this situation is a “significant stain” on the rule of law and was inexcusable.
“The ability of the judiciary to resolve matters must be a critical dimension of the rule of law. In this regard, I have to say a significant stain on the rule of law so far is Guyana’s inability over the last 13 years to appoint a substantive office holder to the position of Chancellor…There really can be no excuse for that kind of situation,” he said while presenting on `The rule of law and the Caribbean Court of Justice’ at the Fourth Conversation on Law and Society.
He spoke on the issue again when he returned to Guyana a few months later.
Sir Dennis spoke of a resort to the court system while Justice Saunders’ remedy would be a review of the existing formula used to appoint the two office holders.
Article 127 (1) of the Constitution states that the President and the Opposition Leader 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.
Belizean Chief Justice (CJ) Kenneth Benjamin was identified by the President as the nominee for the substantive Chancellor position, while Cumming-Edwards was identified for substantive Chief Justice. George did not apply for either position.
Jagdeo, by way of a letter in February, informed Granger of his disagreement with the nominees but did not offer any reason.
Since then neither man has budged from his respective positions. The president has repeatedly said that lots of time was taken on choosing the two nominees and as a result he would not change them.
The Guyana Bar Association (GBA), the Guyana Association of Women Lawyers (GAWL) and Transparency Institute of Guyana Incorporated (TIGI) have all issued calls for substantive appointments to be made.
Meanwhile, Justice Bernard explained that she always kept a copy of the speeches and presentations she made at various events. She explained that after retiring from the CCJ she went through the documents and decided to compile them in a book.
The contents of her book cover four main areas—the judiciary, the legal profession, women’s and children’s issues, and general and social issues. Topics examined include the role of the appellate court, dispute resolution, the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas and the CCJ and its underpinnings
“It was amazing when I sat down to put it all together… that I had written all of this. Up to know I can’t believe [it],” she said, while noting that she tried in the book to touch on every little aspect of the law and the courts.
Justice Bernard told the audience that the contents were “extremely useful” for all categories of persons. She recommended it for persons who are interested in the history of the legal profession, women and children.
She noted that the foreword of the book, which was written by Sir Dennis, reflects on her entire life.
After almost four months of a back and forth between her and the publisher, she received copies of the final product a few months ago. Though she has already shared copies to women judges in Trinidad, she said she wanted to have it officially launched in her homeland.
Bernard later accepted an invitation from the University of Guyana, to have a second book launching and signing at the Turkeyen Campus next year.
Justice George, in introducing Justice Bernard, painted her as a trail blazer given her long and distinguished career, and as a woman who is an inspiration for many in the legal fraternity, including her.
She noted that Justice Bernard was a strong advocate for the establishment of a Family Court in Guyana, a dream which has since been realised.
Aside from being the former Chancellor, Justice Bernard was the first female High Court Judge of the Supreme Court of Guyana; the first female Justice of Appeal and the first female Chief Justice of Guyana and in the Commonwealth Caribbean. Justice Bernard took the oath of office as a Judge of the Caribbean Court of Justice at the Court’s Inauguration Ceremony, on Saturday April 16th, 2005 and she served until her retirement in 2014.
She is also a founding member of the Guyana Association of Women Lawyers.
Among those present at the event were Judges, Magistrates, attorneys, Speaker of the National Assembly Dr. Barton Scotland, University of Guyana Vice-Chancellor Ivelaw Griffith, former Chancellor (ag) Carl Singh and former Chairman of the Police Complaints Authority Cecil Kennard.