Aug 13, 2008 News
A top attorney from the United States of America is highly supportive of the lifetime appointment of judges, which he said would give security of tenure to the important arm of government.
Attorney-at-law Ilya Shapiro, a senior fellow in Constitutional Studies in the United States, believes that lifetime appointment of judges would insulate them from many outside influences.
Shapiro, who was also an adviser to the US military in Iraq, was speaking during the opening day of a three-day US and Guyana military relations seminar which is being held at the Grand Coastal Inn.
According to Shapiro, judges should not have to encounter the impediment of possible removal from office by politics and should carry out their functions based on law.
“They should base their judgement on law and not by politics,” Shapiro told the seminar.
Participants at the seminar had pointed to the vulnerability of the judiciary to corruption, especially in the growing fight against such criminal activities as narco-trafficking.
The American explained that in some states of the United States of America, judges are appointed after a ballot, a position which he does not wholeheartedly support.
He noted that this can be a compromised position, since judges’ tenure can be influenced by the electorate.
“They (judges) should feel insulated from any change of government. The courts should not be beholden to anyone,” Shapiro stated.
In Guyana, the Judicial Service Commission recommends candidates for the position of judges, and these are then appointed by the president.
Their services can be terminated by the judiciary if they are found to be in serious breach of the constitution.
Another issue discussed was the remuneration of judges, which was seen as a critical ingredient to maintaining the rule of law in that arm of government.
It was agreed that this will insulate them from challenges related to the cost of living and make them less susceptible to corruption.
At present, many legal operatives are shying away from the bench because of the remuneration package being offered.
A major challenge facing the judiciary is the backlog of cases and this is compounded by the late presentation of written decisions.
During his presentation, attorney-at-law Shapiro noted that from his observation the government has failed in its primary role of security.
He noted that one aspect of the rule of law, which was one of the main topics of discussion at yesterday’s session, is persons living without fear.
According to Shapiro, just having a well-trained police and military does not constitute the rule of law.
The criminal justice system, he said, is one important factor of the rule of law.
“Without a (proper) legal structure, it is very difficult for you to go beyond a certain level of development,” he noted, adding that international assistance is not enough to guarantee the rule of law.
He pointed to the Middle East, which has an abundance of financial resources and yet there is not complete adherence to the rule of law.
The seminar, which has seen the non-participation of the government, is being attended by members of civil society, including the private sector and the media, former senior military officials as well as members of the main opposition PNCR-1G.
It comes at a time when Guyana and the rest of the region are facing an increase in security-related problems, mainly stemming from the trafficking in narcotics.
The government had indicated that they will not be participating in the seminar.
One of the coordinators of the seminar, Lieutenant Colonel Steven Stanley of the US Military, Southern Command, said that it is unfortunate that all the relevant players associated with civil society were not attending.
He stated that he was not too sure if it is a full distraction or what the seminar is trying to achieve.
“The real issue is nurturing a voice and a dialogue that would not otherwise have been heard in the context of a public good- and that public good is national defence security strategy for how resources are prioritized in terms of how they should be,” Lt Col. Stanley told Kaieteur News.
He noted that it is imperative that civil society organize itself in the context of the democratic format.
“Think tanks are important. We have an emerging think tank here with David Granger’s organization which is largely made up of academics who write expansively on security issues, security policies in the Caribbean and in Guyana,” Stanley explained.
This is in addition to other forms of non-governmental organizations of people who are concerned about the security situation in Guyana.
Some participants of the seminar had expressed concerns that many of their voices are not heeded by the administration, who they say turn a blind eye to issues that are taken before decision making forums such as the National Assembly.
One opposition member noted that most of the bills that are being presented to the Parliament are devoid of consultations with the wider civil society.
“I think we have to construct and frame the debate in such a way that we look at security first as a public good, available and necessary for all Guyanese, regardless of race, colour, creed, political association or otherwise,” Lt. Col. Stanley explained.
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