The acting Chief Justice of Guyana, Ian Chang, is this column’s choice for Man of Year for 2012. He won the award convincingly.
There was no need to consider any other contenders. The quality of Justice Chang’s decisions in three cases, set him apart from any possible rival and made him the undisputed winner of the coveted prize of Man of the Year for 2012 in Guyana, as adjudged by this column.
Justice Chang’s rulings have been of an exceptionally high standard of jurisprudence and he is now likely because of this to become a prime candidate for the Caribbean Court of Appeal, that is, if this is what he wants for himself. He has elevated himself amongst the pantheon of great legal minds in Guyana and while his decisions are not without criticism or free from attracting controversy, they stand in a class of their own and are of an exceptional high grade.
The three decisions in which Justice Chang distinguished himself in 2012 were:
a) His ruling in the constitutional challenge to the composition of parliamentary committees
b) The challenge against the Budget cuts made by the opposition parties.
c) The overturning of the decision of the Director of Public Prosecutions to recommend charges against the then Police Commissioner, Mr. Henry Greene (now deceased).
That latter decision alone is a landmark one and by itself would have qualified the Chief Justice for the award the Man of the Year for 2012. But there were the two other decisions all of which are likely to become part of legal precedent in the Commonwealth Caribbean.
The first decision involved a challenge by the country’s Attorney General to the composition of parliamentary committees. The AG had argued that these committees should have been constituted according to the principle of proportionality.
The respondents, in turn, based their arguments on the fact that parliament controls its own internal affairs and is not subject to judicial review.
The decision reiterated the principle that while the National Assembly may regulate its own procedures and make rules for such purposes, such rules must not collide with any of the provisions of the Constitution.
In other words, the National Assembly does not have absolute immunity; its actions are subject to the Constitution.
In his decision, Justice Chang found that the Court was unable to read into the provisions of the Constitution a mandate that the composition of the parliamentary committees should be in proportion to the seats allocated to the various parties in the National Assembly.
As such, the only basis upon which the composition of the parliamentary committees could have been overturned was if the make-up of these committees were unconstitutional. Justice Chang found that such a case had not been established.
The second decision concerned a challenge by the Attorney General to the cuts instituted by the combined opposition against the 2012 Budget. These cuts included cuts to the subvention of the Ethnic Relations Commission, a body created by the Constitution.
In his ruling the CJ argued that the National Assembly did not have the authority to either cut or reduce the Budget since in so doing the Assembly was both determining and approving the estimates, and this collides with the right of the government to initiate spending proposals.
In relation to constitutional commissions, he noted that a distinction had to be made between the members of those commissions and the establishment and maintenance of these bodies. He argued that it is not for the National Assembly to take remedial action against the composition of the ERC by refusing its subvention or by limiting this subvention to a mere $1.
This ruling while preliminary has clearly placed a brake on any intentions there may have been to create a tyranny of one in the National Assembly.
The third and perhaps most significant decision was when the CJ overturned a recommendation by the Director of Public Prosecutions proffering charges against the then Commissioner of Police, Henry Greene, now deceased.
In that case the CJ made a landmark ruling, to wit, that in the exercise of public law the decision to prosecute or not to prosecute is not beyond judicial review. Justice Chang in a decision marked by thoroughness and rigour, argued that the public interest must include the right of members to not be charged for offenses for which there were no realistic prospects of success.
In arriving at a decision as to whether to prosecute, the CJ argued that the DPP was obligated to apply the realistic prospect of conviction test. If the DPP viewing the matter holistically and objectively came to the conclusion that the prosecution would be unlikely to satisfy a jury beyond reasonable doubt, then the no charges ought to be laid.
This was a landmark decision and one that will make legal history and be used as a precedent. Such has the quality of the rulings of Justice Chang this year and more than ensured that he emerged for the second time in recent memory as this column’s Man of the Year.
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