The days of handpicking and secret overtures to fill vacancies in the office of Judges are over and Head of State David Granger would be remiss in his duty to the Guyanese people if he were to robotically appoint Judges recommended by the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) without first ascertaining the qualifications, suitability, experience, expertise, integrity and absence of nepotism among other considerations.
Attorney General and Legal Affairs Minster Basil Williams on Thursday espoused this position in reaction to criticisms by sections of the political Opposition in relation to the hiatus in the appointment of judges ever since the current Administration took office.
General Secretary of the People’s Progressive Party Civic (PPP/C) Clement Rohee, in recent days had suggested that the pending recommendations of the JSC to the President for the appointment of certain Judges after the new Government came to office, must be accepted and swiftly acted upon by him.
Williams contends however, “the Constitution does not impose a time line on the President to treat with any such recommendation by the JSC and for good reason.”
The Legal Affairs Minister has since opined that the President must have a higher and perpetual retainer, in ensuring that the Judges he appoints are fit and proper, and were selected and recommended after a transparent process.
Speaking directly to the pending recommendations, the Legal Affairs Minister has since sought to point out that they were not triggered by any public advertisement of vacancies in the office of Judges and inviting applications for appointments.
Accusing the previous Administration of simply shedding crocodile tears on the issue, Williams said “the alleged shortage of Judges was not occasioned under the APNU/AFC (A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change) Government which inherited excessive delays in both the civil and criminal jurisdictions and the crippling backlog of cases in all courts.”
According to Williams, “the question therefore is why didn’t the PPP/C Government make those appointments while in Office?”
He is adamant the courts are functioning now as they were under the PPP/C a year and a half ago when the APNU/AFC took up the helm of Government.
Williams blames the PPP/C Administration for the state of affairs in the judiciary with regards the shortage of judges. He is of the view that the Judiciary was never a high priority of the PPP/C Government “except for the seeking to control it.”
Williams posits the Judiciary was not independent because it had no financial independence, but this changed when the APNU/AFC Government came to office and passed legislation to remedy the situation.
“In particular, the PPP/C Government inflicted a mortal blow on the independence of the Judiciary when it passed legislation to remove the powers hitherto inhering in office of Chief Justice and reposing them in the office of the Chancellor.”
He surmised that this resulted “wittingly or unwittingly in the PPP/C seeking to place their champion in the office of the Chancellor at every meeting of the President and Leader of the Opposition to agree on the appointment of a Chief Justice and Chancellor there being no power in the office of the Chief Justice.”
According to Williams, having removed all the checks and balances necessary to guarantee an independent and effective judiciary, the way was paved for secret, appointments to the bench by the JSC and a PPP/C President who created the distortion in the Judiciary in the first place.
Williams maintains “The alleged shortage of Judges was not occasioned under the APNU/AFC Government which inherited excessive delays in both the civil and criminal jurisdictions and the crippling backlog of cases in all courts.” (Guyana Times)