GUYANA: Article 13 justifies call for confirmation of Chancellor, Chief Justice

Acting Chief Justice Roxanne George-Wiltshire (right) and Acting Chancellor of the Judiciary Justice Yonette Cummings-Edwards.

The civil society pro-participatory governance organisation, Article 13, said the acting Chancellor of the Judiciary, Yonette Cummings and acting Chief Justice Roxane George-Wiltshire should be confirmed because they have performed creditably.

“They have obviously been in the system for years and years. Over the time, they would have given some excellent decisions. They would have given some decisions that were overturned . They have given decisions for and against an incumbent government which shows not only independence but it shows judicial courage which is what a country such as this certainly requires,” Article 13’s Christopher Ram told Demerara Waves Online News/ News-Talk Radio Guyana 103.1 FM.       

Justice Cummings has been acting as Chancellor of the Judiciary from 2016 and Mrs. George-Wiltshire has been acting as Chief Justice since 2017. The Opposition Leader had declined to give his constitutionally required approval for their confirmation.  Successive Presidents of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) have taken a dim view of this situation and have called for substantive appointments of those two top judicial posts. 

Mr. Ram argued that it would be “manifestly unfair” not to confirm Justices Cummings and George-Wiltshire. He said if President Irfaan Ali refuses to confirm them, he should give reasons for doing so. “There must be something really, really egregious they have committed, and clearly they have not, to disqualify them from confirmation,” said Mr. Ram, a Chartered Accountant and Attorney-at-Law.

A number of top government officials have recently criticised majority decisions by the Guyana Court of Appeal in a number of political cases, casting somewhat of a shadow over the acting Chancellor of the Judiciary. “Strange enough, judges have a right to be wrong and that’s why we have appellate courts,” he said. Mr. Ram said decisions are made based on the arguments before them. “I respect that the courts can make wrong decisions; that happens all the time,” he added.

Local Government Minister Nigel Dharamlall had in December, 2021 publicly called on social media for Justices Cummings and Dawn Gregory to be “defrocked” from their judicial positions because they again ruled in favour of the PNCR-led A Partnership for National Unity+Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC) that the Court of Appeal has jurisdiction to hear an appeal of the High Court’s dismissal of an opposition election petition on procedural grounds.

Attorney General Anil Nandlall had not defended Mr. Dharamlall but had said that the judiciary was not immune from criticism.

The Guyana Bar Association and Mr. Nandlall have cited the need for Guyana’s Constitution to be amended to remove gridlock in the appointment of a Chancellor of the Judiciary and the Chief Justice.

Speaking during the launch of the inaugural Law Week 2021 earlier this month, the Chancellor had stressed “the creation and insulation” of an independent judiciary. “The absolute independence of the judiciary stands as the bulwark of the constitution against encroachment from any source whatsoever. The courts are constitutionally bound to give the citizen a fair hearing within a reasonable time for determination of the existence or extent of the civil rights of any of the law governing those rights,” she said.

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