GUYANA | CCJ President wants Chief Justice and Appeal Court posts filled by year end

GUYANA | CCJ President wants Chief Justice and Appeal Court posts filled by year end

GEORGETOWN, Guyana, April 17, 2022 - President of the Caribbean Court of Justice, (CCJ) Justice Adrian Saunders is disappointed that Guyana has not been able to have a substantive Chancellor of the Judiciary and a Chief Justice in place for almost two decades, and wants to see the appointments made before the end of the year.

“As the President of your final court, I believe I have a right and a duty publicly to express the view that Guyana should not let this year pass and not remedy this regrettable situation,” Justice Saunders said as he addressed legal practitioners in Guyana at the annual dinner of the Guyana Bar Association.

 Noting that this was “one significant blot on an otherwise impressive Guyanese legal and judicial landscape,” the CCJ President said “for the country to have not appointed a Chancellor for 17 long years is very disappointing; likewise, to be without an appointed Chief Justice for several years.”

Justice Saunders was critical of  the lack of judges sitting in the Court of Appeal and challenged the government to provide the judiciary with its reasonable needs.

Justice Yonette Cummings (left) currently acts in the position of Chancellor while Justice Roxanne George (right) acts as Chief Justice.Justice Yonette Cummings (left) currently acts in the position of Chancellor while Justice Roxanne George (right) acts as Chief Justice.At present the Court of Appeal is presided over by Chancellor, Justice Yonette Cummings-Edwards with justices Dawn Gregory and Rishi Persaud. Occasionally, the chancellor has had to pull judges sitting in the High Court to assist in adjudicating matters.

“Guyana’s justice system is now dynamic, responsive, and innovative. It is currently ably led, for a few years now, by two forward-looking and progressive judges in the persons of the Acting Chancellor and the Acting Chief Justice,” the CCJ President noted.

The last Chancellor, Justice Desiree Bernard left that position in 2005. There have been a number of acting appointments since then, with Justice Yonette Cummings currently acting in the position of Chancellor while Justice Roxanne George acts as Chief Justice.

“Guyana’s justice system is now dynamic, responsive, and innovative. It is currently ably led, for a few years now, by two forward-looking and progressive judges in the persons of the Acting Chancellor and the Acting Chief Justice,” CCJ President Adrian Saunders observed.

He said attention must be placed on ensuring that the system of judicial appointments and promotions is highly competitive, transparent, and merit-based and that there should be ongoing, relevant, and systematic judicial education being made available for Judges and Magistrates.

Guyana is also currently without a Judicial Service Commission which is responsible for other appointments in the local judiciary.

“Now more than ever, Guyana’s judiciary must be and be seen to be impartial, independent, competent, efficient and effective. The judiciary must also be accountable to the people of Guyana. We can only earn the public’s trust if we demonstrate humility and accountability.

How do we do that? The judiciary must, for example, establish and publish performance standards and live up to them. On the other hand, the Executive needs to provide the judiciary with its reasonable needs. So, for example, three judges of the Court of Appeal is simply not enough for that court to perform effectively,” Saunders told the audience of lawyers and other top judicial officials.

Last November, the acting Chancellor, in responding to Attorney General Anil Nandlall after he criticized the judiciary for not delivering timely written decisions, said the judiciary was doing its best to deliver justice despite its limited human resources.

 She noted back then that there are some 13 judges in the High Court to preside over thousands of cases “and we’ve not been complaining, we’ve been doing our work assiduously…” 

Justice Cummings-Edwards pointed out that with the limited number of judges who must rotate presiding over matters in Demerara, Essequibo and Berbice districts, notwithstanding their overwhelming workload, it places a further strain on the appellate court if one of its only three judges has to be excused, necessitating a judge to be brought in from the High Court.

 The Chancellor said: “We are in a sad state indeed, legally, given our numbers and even more sad state given the fact that our judges are being pilloried… even when we’re doing our level best at ensuring justice, given our small numbers throughout the length and breadth of Guyana.” 

Saunders noted that Guyana is on the cusp of unimaginable economic transformation. “This country that has survived slavery, indentureship, colonialism and civil strife fully deserves such blessings.

We all know, however, that while material wealth could yield expansive physical infrastructure, investing in their education, their health, their working and living spaces, their sporting and recreational endeavours, and in all the infrastructure that improves their way of life not just materially but also spiritually as reflected in sports and arts, literature and theatre,” he said.

“Most of all, it is important to strengthen the institutions that promote the rule of law. The rule of law does not mean rule by law. Chattel Slavery, Hitler’s Third Reich, South Africa’s Apartheid, these were all states in which rule by law prevailed. 

"But the rule of law means more than simply the promulgation and enforcement of laws. The rule of law implies legal accountability, fairness, respect for minorities, the observance of human rights, judicial independence, the separation of powers, equality before the law and the absence of corruption and arbitrariness. 

It is in the observance of these fundamental principles that the roles of the courts and of lawyers are most relevant. All of here have a special responsibility to promote the rule of law,” the CCJ President concluded.

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