Over the last 14 years, Guyana has failed to appoint a substantive office holder to the position of Chancellor of the Judiciary. This deficiency was a concern raised by the Caribbean Association of Judicial Officers (CAJO) when it held its sixth Biennial Conference from October 31- November 2, in Belize City, Belize. This year’s Conference was hosted under the theme “Judicial Integrity – the Pathway to Public Trust and Confidence.”
The conference was attended by Justice Yonette Cummings-Edwards and Justice Roxane George, S.C., who are acting in the positions of Chancellor of the Judiciary and Chief Justice, respectively.
In a press statement released by the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) on the conference, it was noted that, “the Association [CAJO] expressed concerns over lengthy acting appointments for Heads of Judiciaries and singled out the position of Chancellor of Guyana which has not had a substantive office holder since 2005. The CAJO also reasserted that it is the duty of all courts to guarantee integrity and to secure the trust and confidence of the people of the Caribbean.”
Guyana last substantive Chancellor of the Judiciary was Justice Desiree Bernard who served from 2001-2005. After then, several other judges were appointed to act in the position including the current Chancellor, Justice Cummings-Edwards, who was sworn in by President David Granger on March 27, 2018 following the retirement of Justice Carl Singh, who was also never confirmed in the post.
Justice George was also sworn in to act as Chief Justice then, too. She was appointed to the post in December 2015, following the retirement of Justice Ian Chang, S.C. Both Justices Cummings-Edwards
and George worked in the chambers of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) before their elevation to Judges.The country’s inability to appoint a substantive Chancellor of the Judiciary has been bemoaned by the country’s highest court, the CCJ. In fact, in May 2018, President of the CCJ, Justice Dennis Byron, as he then was, expressed that having judges acting in the position of Chancellor and Chief Justice is a most unfortunate state of affairs.Among other things, Justice Byron complained that prolonged acting appointments pose a genuine risk to the promise to citizens of an independent and impartial judiciary. Current President of the CCJ Justice Adrian Saunders had called out Guyana for this issue. Justice Saunders pointed out that the country’s failure to make substantive judicial appointment is a significant strain on the rule of law.
The procedure for the appointment of Chancellor and Chief Justice are outlined in Article 127 (1) and (2) of the Constitution of Guyana. Article 127 (1) states: “The Chancellor and the Chief Justice shall be appointed by the President after obtaining the agreement of the Leader of the Opposition”.
President Granger’s appointments of acting Chancellor and Chief Justice were made in conformity with Article 127 (2) which states: “If the office of Chancellor or Chief Justice is vacant, or if the person holding the office of Chancellor is performing the functions of the office of President or is for any other reason unable to perform the functions of his or her office, or if the person holding the office of Chief Justice is for any reason unable to perform the functions of his or her office, then, until such a person has been appointed to and assumed the functions of such office or until the person holding such office has assumed those functions, as the case may be, those functions shall be performed by such other of the Judges as shall be appointed by the President after meaningful consultation with the Leader of the Opposition”.
President Granger and Opposition Leader, Bharrat Jagdeo could not come to an agreement on the appointment of a Chancellor. The President’s choice for Chancellor was Guyana–born, Belizean Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin; his nominee for Chief Justice was Justice Cummings-Edwards. These nominees were not favourable to Jagdeo, so President Granger went ahead with the acting appointments. The Office of the Chancellor and Chief Justice are the most senior in the country’s judiciary. The Chancellor of the Judiciary is the chief representative of the judicial authority of Guyana.
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