Govt to construct massive judicial complex in Demerara – AG

Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs Anil Nandlall

By: Feona Morrison

The transformation of Guyana’s legal landscape is moving apace and will soon see the construction of a central courthouse in Demerara with a full-service consolidated facility for criminal, probate, Family Court, Land Court and Court of Appeal matters, complete with registries and support staff.

This is according to Attorney General and Legal Affairs Minister Anil Nandlall, SC, who, while speaking to reporters on Wednesday at the Demerara High Court, boasted that the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) Government has one of the most aggressive legislative agendas in recent times.

Speaking about the timeframe for the construction of the modern and massive judicial complex, he said, “…we want to move ahead as quickly as possible, because the system requires great speed in the disposal of cases for there to be justice efficiently and in accordance with the law”.

He said that the Government was proposing after consulting with the Judiciary and Bar to amend the law to increase the complement of Judges at the Court of Appeal in Kingston, Georgetown.

“Currently the complement is not less than two and not more than five. That, obviously, is inadequate, having regard to the caseload that is leaving the High Court… The Government is proposing to increase that complement from not less than five to not more than nine. The Government is proposing and we hope that the consultation will find the agreement.”

The Court of Appeal has one courtroom and is presided over by acting Chancellor of the Judiciary, Justice Yonette Cummings-Edwards and Justices of Appeal Dawn Gregory and Rishi Persaud.

From time to time, the Chief Justice, who is an ex-officio Justice of Appeal, along with High Court Judges, are called, if necessary, for a full bench sitting.

“We believe also that the Court of Appeal should become itinerant,” the Attorney General added.

Once the appellate court becomes itinerant, while there is a complement of Judges sitting in Georgetown, there will also be a complement sitting continuously in Berbice and Essequibo if the need arises.

“After 50 years of independence, we cannot continue doing things the way we have been doing them conventionally. The litigation load has increased one thousand times from independence to now and therefore as an institution, the Judiciary will also have to be innovative,” said Nandlall.

Construction works are ongoing at the Court of Appeal to accommodate another courtroom.
According to the Senior Counsel, the judicial officers will be provided with the necessary resources and “backup staff” for them to proficiently discharge their duties.

“It’s an all-encompassing exercise,” he pointed out, adding, “So, we intend to do that, because our Government considers the administration of justice central to our country and an important factor in the democratic, economic and social equation of our country…”

Since taking office, the Dr Irfaan Ali-led Administration has been bombarded with calls to swiftly establish the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) to appoint more High Court Judges and to increase the number of Judges at the Court of Appeal to deal with the backlog of cases.

There has been no JSC since 2017. The last JSC was appointed by former President Donald Ramotar on September 11, 2014. The tenure of each appointed member is for three years, therefore, the tenure of the last Commission expired on September 12, 2017.

Among other things, the function of the JSC is to advise the President on the appointment of Judges, with the exception of the Chancellor of the Judiciary and the Chief Justice.

There is also a shortage of Judges at the High Court. Guyana Times understands that while the required number of High Court Judges is 20, there are only 12, and one of them is due to retire shortly.

The findings of a recent United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) report highlighted that the backlog in cases that has been plaguing the criminal justice system for years was the result of, among other things, a shortage of Judges. “If the present cadre of Judges is not increased, then the issue of backlogs will not be addressed. It is recommended that further options for increasing the human resource capacity including for judicial legal research assistants, Judges, Prosecutors, and trained mediators be explored,” the report had noted.

Last week, Nandlall announced all preparatory works have been done for the establishment of the JSC and that once Parliament resumed this month, the process would move swiftly.

Another issue the judicial system has had to deal with over the years is the non-appointment of a substantive Chancellor and Chief Justice.

The A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance for Change (APNU/AFC) has filed legal proceedings in this regard and has called it a gross dereliction and abdication of duty by President Ali.

But the Head of State has indicated that he would deal with the substantive appointments “when the time is right”, and after the various service commissions are set up.

The Opposition wants the High Court to compel the President, through the Attorney General, to initiate the process contemplated by the Constitution to fill the vacancies.
Justice Cummings-Edwards has been acting as Chancellor since 2016 while Roxane George, SC, has been acting as Chief Justice since 2017.

Opposition Member of Parliament (MP), Vinceroy Jordan, who filed the action, submitted that Opposition Leader Aubrey Norton has expressed to President Ali that he was committed to agreeing to the immediate confirmation of Justice Cummings-Edwards and Justice George, in their respective positions.

The procedure for the appointment of the Chancellor and Chief Justice is outlined in Article 127 (1) of the Constitution which states: “The Chancellor and the Chief Justice shall be appointed by the President after obtaining the agreement of the Leader of the Opposition.”
It has been over 21 and 17 years, respectively, since Guyana has had a confirmed Chief Justice and Chancellor. The last confirmed Chief Justice was Desiree Bernard who served from 1996 to 2001; she also served as Chancellor from 2001 to 2005.

The country’s inability to appoint a substantive Chancellor and Chief Justice for an extended period has been a cause for concern for several bodies like the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ); the Caribbean Association of Judicial Officers (CAJO) and the Bar Association of Guyana.

The Attorney General has conceded that the current formula that requires consensus between the President and the Opposition Leader has not worked in the more than two decades it was put in place and that a constitutional amendment is needed to remove the gridlock.