I am not aware that Guyana has a Constitutional Court. This is news to me and news to the entire country. I must have been asleep when this Court was constituted. I am not aware that the Constitution of Guyana provides for such a Court. But I am subject to correction if someone can point out where and when Guyana established this Constitutional Court.
Guyana has a Family Court and it has a Commercial Court. But do we have a Constitutional Court? Nah!
If Guyana had a Constitutional Court, then the instruments establishing such a Court would never allow for a one-judge Court. So I do not know where anyone can come up with this idea that Guyana has a one-man Constitutional Court.
As far as I am aware Guyana does not, has not and is never likely to have Constitutional Court. There is simply no need for such a Court in Guyana.
Very few countries in fact boast a Constitutional Court. In South Africa there is a Constitutional Court. But there were special circumstances that led to the need for this Court in South Africa. This Court was formed as a means of protecting the Constitution of South Africa, given that country’s own peculiar history and the fact that upon the birth of the new Constitution of South Africa the majority of judges were White in a country in which the majority of the population is non-White. Therefore, it was felt that a new Court more reflective of the ethnic make-up of the country should be established. So the idea was to give special protection to the country’s new Constitution. These were the special circumstances that gave rise to the need for a Constitutional Court in South Africa. In most other countries, the High Court and the Court of Appeal hear constitutional matters. And so it is and has been in Guyana.
Do we need a special Court in Guyana to protect our Constitution? Many persons in Guyana have complained that the Constitutional Reform Process which began after the 1997 elections did not go far enough. In fact, one overwhelming complaint was that the reforms did not seriously alter the fundamental tenets of Burnham’s 1980 Constitution. This is a debatable issue that should not concern us in this column. The fact is that no special circumstances have ever been advocated that would suggest the need for a Constitutional Court.
Even if the argument is advanced that there is a need to ensure that rulings on constitutional questions are considered by unbiased, impartial and independent judges, this would not in itself justify the need for a Constitutional Court in Guyana. Whatever the suspicions may be about the independence of the local judiciary, Guyana is a member of the Caribbean Court of Justice. As such, those who may have problems with the Constitutional rulings of local High Court judges always have the option of going to Guyana’s Court of Appeal where more than one judge sits. And if they are not satisfied by the ruling in the Appellate Court, they can take their case to the Caribbean Court of Justice.
The fact that there are delays and backlogs in hearing matters should not act as disincentive to anyone appealing any constitutional ruling by any judge. And certainly delays cannot and should not be used to question the quality of Guyana’s jurisprudence which has always been of an exceptional standard. Always!
The problem we have in Guyana is not about any one judge undertaking all of the Constitutional cases. The Chief Justice has ruled in a number of cases where constitutional issues were raised. But so too have other judges!
I recall earlier this year one female judge ruled on the case in which there was a constitutional challenge to the government’s decision not to pay the lotto funds into the Consolidated Fund. This case was not heard by the Chief Justice, but by another judge. I also recall another judge awarding an accused person a sum of money for the breach of his Constitutional rights. When a young teenager had his private parts burnt while in police custody, his lawyers filed action seeking relief, including relief for breaches of his constitutional right in the High Court. A judge did grant significant damages, including exemplary damages in relation to the breach of the constitutional right of the young man. This judge was not the Chief Justice.
So I do not think that a valid argument can be made that Guyana has one judge that handles constitutional cases. This is not so, has never been so, and will never be so.
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