Pointing out that the recent appointments of Senior Counsel by the President have become somewhat ‘contentious’, Minister of State Joseph Harmon, was quizzed about the selection process that was undertaken.
Before responding to the question, Harmon, at a Post-Cabinet Press Briefing yesterday, reminded media operatives that the appointments would come after a two-decade-long hiatus which he referred to as an ‘aberration’.
He made reference to remarks that were made by the Head of State, David Granger during a recently held ceremony which saw the Senior Counsel being presented with their instruments.
“The comments made by His Excellency the President was that the Cooperative Republic of Guyana, as an independent nation, established a system of National Awards which included the award of Senior Counsel,”
Harmon added that before Guyana achieved Republic-status, Senior Counsel Awards came from England and were called “Queen’s Counsel”.
“After we became a Republic State, we instituted a number of things which were national in character. We dealt with our own National Anthem; our own Symbols of Nationhood…and the appointment of Senior Counsel was part of that process,” he said.
Harmon said that after 20 years, the President took a ‘strong ‘position to resuscitate the awards.
He continued that the process of the persons being appointed starts with a letter by the President to the Chancellor of the Judiciary, requesting that he/she identify persons to whom the Senior Counsel can be given.
“And so, the Chancellor in consultation with the Judges of the Supreme Court, prepares a list of persons – whom in their opinion – have acquitted themselves so well in the courts,” Harmon said.
The State Minister continued that the list is then sent to the President, who is then guided by that list and by his own ‘deliberate judgement’.
“It is from that process that you have the list of persons who were granted this national honour.”
Harmon said that the President has given his assurance that this would be a regular feature in the coming years.
Meanwhile, there has been much criticism, with the Opposition being the more vocal. The former Minister of Legal Affairs and Attorney General, Anil Nandlall is on record condemning the process; labelling it as “opaque and discriminatory”.
The list did not include attorney-at-law Nigel Hughes, a trial lawyer who has done work in constitutional reforms. He was not honoured despite a push for him to be amongst the appointees.
Observers have begun to question why he was not selected, and have even taken to several fora such as social media networks and Letters to the Editor, registering their disappointment.
Senior Counsel is recognition by Government of the high esteem held for certain members of the legal profession. According to the Ministry of the Presidency, the Senior Counsel recognition is for persons “learned in the law in Guyana, on account of their exemplary experience, erudition, excellence and diligence in the practice of the law…”
Minister of Legal Affairs, and the Attorney General, Basil Williams, and three women were among a list of nine persons that were named Senior Counsel. It was also the first time in history that women were bestowed with this honour.
The awardees included Neil Aubrey Boston. He was admitted to the Bar in November 1982, and was named for “service with distinction as a trial lawyer for over 34 years”.
For his 33 years as Parliamentary Counsel and Deputy Chief Parliamentary Counsel, Charles John Ethelwood Fung-A-Fat, was also recognised. He was admitted to the Bar in August 1983.
The list also included Justice Alison Roxanne McLean George-Wiltshire. She was admitted to the Bar in October 1990, and has served as a Senior State Counsel, Assistant Director of Public Prosecution, Deputy Director of Public Prosecution and Director of Public Prosecution.
The oldest of the persons named was 91-year-old Clifton Mortimer Llewellyn John, admitted in 1952 first as a solicitor and then as a barrister. He has practised for 64 years in both the High Court and the Magistrate’s Court.
Rafiq Turhan Khan, admitted to the Bar in November 1984, is now Senior Counsel for his service as an advocate, member and Co-Chairman of the Legal Practitioners Committee.
Vidyanand Persaud, called to the Bar in London in July 1976, and admitted to the Bar in Guyana in October 1976, has served as an arbitrator in disputes and in private practice for 40 years. He was appointed an Acting Puisne Judge of Guyana Supreme Court in 1994.
Also on the list is Rosalie Althea Robertson. She was admitted to the Bar in November 1983 and for 33 years has served as a Legal Advisor, Corporate Secretary and as Registrar of Lands.
Justice Claudette Margot Cecile Singh, called to the Bar in London in 1973 and admitted to the Bar in Guyana in 1976, was said to have served as Deputy Solicitor General and as a Puisne Judge and a Justice of Appeal. She has also spearheaded the Modernisation of the Justice Reform Project, and is currently the Guyana Police Force’s Legal Advisor.
The current Attorney General, Basil Williams, admitted to the Bar in October 1983, was recognised for his service in the practice of the law in both criminal and civil law for over 33 years.
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