Williams downplays chancellor nominee’s judgment backlog

Attorney General Basil Williams SC yesterday downplayed concerns over the backlog of judgments which Chief Justice of Belize Kenneth Benjamin, who has been nominated as Guyana’s new Chancellor of the Judiciary, has failed to deliver.

Justice Benjamin has been nominated by President David Granger to fill the post of Chancellor.

At his first press conference for the year yesterday, Williams, in response to questions from this newspaper about concerns over Benjamin being able to complete cases and deliver judgments in a timely manner here, given his track record, said that the issue of backlog can be found throughout the region and not just Guyana.

Quoting scriptures from the Holy Bible, Williams also declared, “He who is without sin cast the first stone.”

The Attorney General said that there is no jurisdiction not beset by challenges of case backlog.

According to Williams, one of the first things he did after assuming office, was approach the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) with a proposal. He said, however, that the IDB was reluctant about signing on to any proposal as there had been one under the previous PPP government and instead of the backlog reducing, it increased after large sums had been expended.

Pressed for a viable solution to the problem, Williams told the Stabroek News that legislation will have to be passed stipulating timelines within which judges should render their judgments. Such legislation is already on the books.

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, putting 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. The decision on Justice Benjamin being selected for the post of Chancellor rests now with the Leader of the Opposition Bharrat Jagdeo, who by law has to agree with the president’s 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.

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