Senior Counsel debacle ‘unfortunate’

-AFC calls on gov’t to explain

Timothy Jonas

The AFC is calling on government to give its side in relation to allegations that it recalled the bestowing of Senior Counsel (SC) status on attorney Timothy Jonas because of his political affiliation.

“On behalf of our party…we do have to hear from the other side. We only heard what was reported in the media. We would not want to be associated with any sort of victimisation of anyone because of their political belief. That is something we hold very dear to us and it is important,” AFC Executive Dominic Gaskin told a press conference hosted by the party yesterday. The AFC is part of the governing coalition with APNU.

“We would of course like to get the whole story behind it but it is not the type of actions that we support,” he added.

Saying that the administration has desecrated the process used to select SC, attorney Sanjeev Datadin last week expressed concern at the decision to recall the conferral of ‘silk’ on Jonas, following his involvement in the establishment of a new political party, A New and United Guyana (ANUG).

“…In the last list there was a very, very alarming thing where Timothy Jonas was apparently afforded the honour… when it was announced that he was involved in the new party…he was promptly informed that as fast as he was robed, he was disrobed,” Datadin told the Sunday Stabroek.

Though Datadin did not have all the details, this newspaper subsequently learnt from persons familiar with the issue that sometime in November or early December of last year, Jonas was informed by Chancellor of the Judiciary (ag) Yonette Cummings-Edwards that he received the approval of the judges to be appointed SC and that she would be communicating that to the Executive.

On Christmas Eve, Chief of Protocol at the Ministry of the Presidency, Vic Persaud, contacted Jonas at his home to inform him that upon the judges’ recommendation, he was being appointed SC and that in the coming days, he would receive his documentation and invitation to the ceremony.

The following day, Stabroek News published a story about the formation of ANUG. Five days later, Persaud informed Jonas that the Executive had reconsidered the decision.

A few days later, the Ministry of the Presidency announced five new SC. Jonas’ name was not included. The new SC are Director of Public Prosecutions Shalimar Ali-Hack and attorneys Stephen Fraser, Carole James-Boston, Robert Ramcharran and Rajendra Poonai.

Unfortunate

AFC chairman Khemraj Ramjattan said if Jonas’ allegations are true, it was unfortunate and the party would not support such a move.

“As much as I can say, if indeed what he is saying, it is rather unfortunate that that happened and I am certain things could be placed to have that corrected. The impression I got is that indeed is that the senior members of the judiciary did nominate him and indeed he was communicated that he would get it but I don’t know. It is an important aspect in honouring lawyers in the profession and let me just say at this stage that it is unfortunate,” he said.

He pointed out too that government had not yet responded to the allegations and “we are hearing from Timothy.”

He said that when both sides of the matter are known, the party will issue a statement.

With regards to the process for selecting such persons, Datadin told this newspaper that countries in the Commonwealth have had a slight variation to an established procedure. The established procedure in Guyana, he said, is that the sitting judges of the High Court and the Court of Appeal would recommend persons that they think are suitable. “They would basically try to come up with a shortlist and then amongst themselves [they] decide who should receive the honour. It really is a process driven by the Chancellor in Guyana—the head of the Judiciary, she would be the person who would make the determination finally,” he said.

According to Datadin, that list is then conveyed to the president through the AG for him to carry it out. “The president’s function is purely ceremonial… He doesn’t do a selection… He ought not to have a say. The truth is how the mechanism has always worked is that it goes from the Chancellor of the Judiciary ….or whoever is the head judge to the President/ Head of State/ Prime Minister …but it goes through the Attorney General because the understanding is that there should be no direct contact between the Head of the Judiciary and the Head of the Executive,” he said.

He stressed that “it is not for the Attorney General to fiddle with that list either. That is not proper because he is really just the messenger. He delivers and advises the President that he has received this list from the judiciary.”

Datadin pointed out that locally, when Carl Singh was acting Chancellor, he took the unusual step of deciding to adopt a procedure where those who wished to be appointed silk had to apply.

In May 2014, a notice in this newspaper appeared inviting attorneys-at-law desirous of being elevated to Senior Counsel to apply. At the time of the advertisement, observers had been critical of the sudden interest in appointing Senior Counsel after the long gap. There was a list of candidates for preferment, but no one was ever appointed.

Datadin expressed disagreement with that procedure, saying that “that is not a common practice around the Caribbean or the Commonwealth. In my personal mind, it demeans the honour…It should not happen and it should not continue.”

But Ramjattan said that while the judiciary nominates persons, the appointment is presidential.

“The appointment of senior counsel is also dependent on a number of things…The judiciary nominates but it is always a presidential appointment,” he stressed.

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