PRESS STATEMENT Mr. Robert H O Corbin, MP Leader of the People’s National Congress Reform & Leader of the Opposition To the Press Conference on Wednesday, December 7, 2005 Hall of Heroes, Congress Place, Sophia
Desperate attempts are being made by President Jagdeo and the PPP/C Administration to cover up the President’s failure to observe the constitutional requirement of consultation with the Leader of the Opposition for the appointment of Chancellor of the Judiciary as well as Jagdeo’s recent political blunder of his undisguised attempt at political interference in the functioning of Judiciary of Guyana.
The most recent smoke screen is the announcement by President Jagdeo on December 1, 2005 that he was prepared to immediately withdraw the ill-conceived High Court Bill to remove the functions of the Chief Justice, if the main opposition agrees to the abolition of the post of the Chancellor. Such an irrational and illogical proposition by the President requires a response since it has serious implications for the functioning of an important arm of the State. It is important for me to clarify the issues so that the public would not be victim of President Jagdeo’s deception. There are three separate issues which ought not to be confused at this time:
1. The appointment of a Chancellor of the Judiciary to fill the vacancy created by the resignation of Madam Justice Bernard to take up an appointment in the Caribbean Court of Justice, (CCJ);
2. The High Court (Amendment) Bill 2005, introduced in the National Assembly on Thursday November 10, 2005, which according to the explanatory memorandum of the Bill states:
“this Bill seeks to amend the High Court Act to relieve the Chief Justice of his duties under Sections 66, 76 and 77 and confer those powers on to the Chancellor”; and,
3. The latest proposal by President Jagdeo to abolish the post of Chancellor.
The Guyana Constitution provides for the appointment of a Chancellor who is head of the Judiciary and also Chairman of the Judicial Service Commission. Both of these posts are important for the effective functioning of the Judiciary as presently structured and the upholding of the rule of law in Guyana. The President, by the oath of Office to which he subscribed, is duty bound to comply unless the Constitution is amended.
The Posts of Chancellor of the Judiciary and Chairman of the Judicial Service Commission have been vacant since March 2005. The Constitution directs the President to engage in meaningful consultations with the Leader of the Opposition to reach agreement on the filling of the vacancy. On April 20, 2005, President Jagdeo invited me to commence these constitutionally mandated consultations. He gave no prior indication of his choice of nominee. Consequently, at that meeting I nominated Justice Claudette Singh as a possible candidate and he nominated the incumbent Chief Justice, Carl Singh as his nominee to fill the post. It was therefore agreed that consultations would continue the following week. To date, despite several inquires by me, representations by the Guyana Bar Association, criticisms by concerned stakeholders and public disquiet about the prolonged vacancy in the two highest posts in the Judiciary, President Jagdeo has adamantly refused to comply with the requirements of the constitution. Instead, he announced that he had established a search Committee, in clear violation of the Constitution, to identify a Chief Justice, and he proceeded to appoint Mr. Carl Singh to act as Chancellor.
It is pertinent to note that there is no vacancy for the post of Chief Justice at this time. Such a vacancy could only arise if President Jagdeo’s nominee for the post of Chancellor is agreed upon. Yet, President Jagdeo took no steps for more than six months on this matter. The clear perception by all observers was that President Jagdeo was quite comfortable with the untidy arrangement of his nominee for Chancellor carrying out the functions of both Chief Justice and Chancellor.
THE HIGH COURT (AMENDMENT) BILL 2005
When the High Court (Amendment) Bill 2005 was introduced in the National Assembly without any consultation or discussion it became clear that President Jagdeo, as he did with the Integrity Commission, never intended to proceed as stipulated by the Constitution. His obvious motive is to achieve political control of the Judiciary through the appointment of a politically pliant Chancellor. The blitz of public criticisms, both nationally and internationally, over the decision to table the Bill without consulting members of the legal community or any other stakeholder and the action filed in the High Court by the Chairman of the PNCR, Mr. Winston Murray, challenging the constitutionality of the Bill influenced the Government to delay the second reading of the Bill scheduled for Thursday November 24, last.
On November 21, 2005, I wrote President Jagdeo drawing his attention, not only to the unconstitutionality of the Bill, but alluding to serious concerns expressed by various sections of the society about the purpose and implications of the Bill. In that letter I warned that the upholding of the rule of law in Guyana is too important to be sacrificed on the altar of political expediency. I advised that the Bill be withdrawn.
I have received no reply from President Jagdeo other than an acknowledgement that he received my letter. I must therefore assume that his comments to the media on December 1, constituted his response, at a time when he is among those advocating a new political culture in the conduct of State affairs. In the interest of transparency I will now make available to the media a copy of the letter I wrote to President Jagdeo.
President Jagdeo’s response revealed the tangled web he has weaved in his attempt to deceive the people of Guyana. In the first instance, President Jagdeo now seeks to link the abolition of the post of Chancellor to his withdrawal of the obnoxious Bill. Among the reasons he advances is to bring the Guyana Judiciary in line with Caribbean Courts. Such a tenuous argument cannot be tolerated. President Jadgeo must be, or, ought to be aware that Guyana has been well ahead of the Caribbean in the area of judicial reform. The appointment of a Chancellor to head the Judiciary and as President of the Court of Appeal is directly related to the establishment of the Guyana Court of Appeal as our final Court several decades ago. All other Caribbean countries have until today accepted as their final court the Privy Council. To compare the present judicial structure in Guyana with those of the Caribbean indicates either lack of knowledge or an intention to deceive.
The acceptance of the Caribbean Court of Justice as our final court is a laudable step which the PNCR had always advocated. When this court is fully operational in both its Original and Appellate jurisdictions it may be necessary to review any consequential reorganization that may be necessary for Guyana. In the Parliamentary debate which preceded the acceptance of the CCJ as the highest court for Guyana I suggested that there will be the need to review the organization of the Courts of Guyana which could include the removal of one of the Appellate Courts and the restructuring of the Judiciary. In those circumstances, the discussion on the need for a Chancellor or a Chief Justice becomes relevant. To attempt abolishing the post of Chancellor without any discussion on the restructuring of our court is political adventurism.
If the abolition of the post of Chancellor is a matter which was on the PPP/C policy agenda, one must question why on the vacation of the post by Madam Desiree Bernard, the President, with his declared policy of transparency, did not raise this matter as a substantive issue for discussion with the Leader of the Opposition or any other stakeholder in Guyana, especially the Guyana Bar Association that met him specifically to discuss the delay in the appointment of a Chancellor. For more than five months President Jadgeo’s only stated reason for the delay was his dependence on a mysterious search Committee seeking to find a Chief Justice. It is also amazing that as late as Thursday November 10, 2005, the Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs would lay a Bill in the National Assembly seeking to consolidate the powers of the Chancellor when the President is desirous of abolishing such a post.
Who then is President Jagdeo attempting to fool? The declared reason for the High Court (Amendment) Bill, according to Mr. Doodnauth Singh, SC, MP, is to satisfy the constitutional requirement that the Chancellor is the head of the Judiciary. No one has been fooled by this argument. Is the government suggesting that for more than thirty years the Chancellor was not head of the Judiciary? This issue has never been in doubt and it has never been challenged by anyone within or without the Judiciary. The very constitution which specifies that the Chancellor is head of the Judiciary and Chairman of the Judicial Service Commission for very good reasons also made a clear distinction between the constitution of the Court of Appeal, headed by the Chancellor and the High Court, headed by the Chief Justice. Any attempt to interfere in these matters without amending the constitution would be unconstitutional. President Jagdeo is obligated by the constitution to withdraw the obnoxious Bill and not suffer from the illusion that he can use its withdrawal as a political gimmick for horse trading.
Office of the Leader of the Opposition
People’s National Congress Reform
Congress Place, Sophia
Wednesday, December 7, 2005
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