By Kiana Wilburg
Practiced attorneys-at-law and even members of the political opposition are of the firm belief that the nation is treading
in dangerous waters in having only one judge, Chief Justice (CJ) Ian Chang (ag), presiding in the Constitutional Court.
Specifically, A Partnership for National Unity’s (APNU) Shadow Minister of Finance, Carl Greenidge, is one who holds this view.
Greenidge said that it is inconceivable that such a pivotal institution charged with critical decisions can be presided over by just one person. He said that the work of the court affects the fundamental rights of the populace as a whole and even in the best of circumstances, there is going to be virtue in having more than one judge looking at the Constitution so as to ensure minimization of errors, reducing the scope for overlooking details, eliminating bias and to allow for alternative views.
He said too, that whilst it is true that the CJ’s decisions can be appealed, it has to be understood also that in Guyana, the courts are characterized by extensive setbacks. The politician said that one can view these setbacks as a delay in Justice being served. In recognizing this point, Greenidge reminded that one must bear in mind, the Parkinson’s Law – that delay is the deadliest form of denial.
Though there is the opinion that the Constitutional Court should have the presence of another judge who can help in the adjudication of difficult cases, veteran lawyers however, believe that the Chief Justice is quite an accomplished judge.
They agreed that measured by his output, “he is amazing” but they are also of the opinion that in trying to produce a lot, one can err. While some of the attorneys who spoke with Kaieteur News said that there have been instances where they felt the interpretations of the CJ were flawed, they said to truly determine if he has erred, one would have to rely on the appeals which may be collecting two to three years of dust as it awaits a date for hearing.
Greenidge on the other hand, made it clear that he is in no position to pronounce on Chang’s workload and speed of work.
He remarked however, that the CJ has a reputation for working quickly, but the issue is one of quality especially as reflected in the decisions regarding the financial dimension.
He then referred to the decision handed down by the CJ on the “so-called Budget cuts case of 2012”.This he said, was delivered without the benefit of any historical precedent or any logic pertaining to the evolution of the ‘no-taxation without representation’ principle.
He opined that the CJ’s decision in that case also contained many inconsistencies such as the claim that any money demanded by the Government from certain agencies, have to be approved as requested, even though that request may not have had the support of the agency itself and even though the agency may not actually have been constituted. This is the case he said, with the Ethnic Relations Commission which the CJ pronounced on. The Opposition member said that such inconsistencies bring the decisions of the Court into disrepute and raises question of bias.
Additionally, one lawyer in particular noted that there are increasing complaints in the legal fraternity against the Court of Appeal for having some unresolved cases of national importance, languishing for years. He reminded of the appeal to the Budget cut case which is before the Appeal Court but is yet to start. This he deemed to be highly improper.
APNU’s Shadow Minister of Legal Affairs, Basil Williams also weighed in on this matter. Though Williams stayed clear of commenting specifically on whether he felt the Constitutional court is effective, he did note that the Opposition would certainly appreciate certain matters of national importance being dealt with speedily in the Court of Appeal.
He told this publication yesterday that to the best of his knowledge, the Appeal court has been plagued by many systemic difficulties, questionable conditions for work and even an insufficient number of judges. The Shadow Minister of Legal Affairs said that his mentioning of the irritants of this aspect of the legal system should not be misconstrued to mean that the performance of the court is acceptable.
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