Georgetown, Guyana – (February 19, 2018) The Ministry of the Presidency (MotP) questions the motives of the statement by the Guyana Bar Association (GBA), which was reported in various sections of the press today. Referencing the substantive appointments of the Chancellor of the Judiciary and Chief Justice, the GBA, in its statement, warned that “any action outside of the said Article 127 is unconstitutional, void, of no legal effect and would have embarrassing consequences.” This perplexing statement, made without any indication from the administration of any intention to ever operate outside of the Constitution of Guyana, was described by the Minister of State, Mr. Joseph Harmon, as reckless.
On February 14, 2018, at the swearing in ceremony for Justice Rafiq Khan, when questioned by members of the media on the way forward on the two Constitutional appointments after the Opposition Leader rejected the names of Justices Kenneth Benjamin and Justice Yonette Cummings-Edwards as Chancellor of the Judiciary and Chief Justice respectively, President David Granger said explicitly said that he would be guided by the provisions of the Constitution of Guyana.
“I have to be advised by my Minister of Legal Affairs and Attorney General. We cannot be without a Chancellor and a Chief Justice because right now two persons are acting and I had hoped that we could have moved forward by having a substantive or a full time appointment agreed, but this has not happened and the Constitution requires me to await the approval of the Leader of the Opposition and this hasn’t come so I will have to depend on legal advice and make sure that the Courts continue to function,” President Granger said.
Minister Harmon, in an invited comment, this evening, said that he is concerned at the dangerous path that the Association is treading with its insinuations and strong assertions, despite the public statements made by the Head of State with regard to upholding of the Constitution. He described as reckless the statement attributed to the Association, which states that the climate surrounding the appointment of the two offices is “repugnant and shakes the public confidence in the legal system. It further unfairly undermines the dignity of the offices and office holders”.
“This is a rash statement from a Bar Association… more importantly having regard for the recent actions of the administration in ensuring that at all material times that the appointments to the Judiciary were made in good time and based on the advice of the Judicial Services Commission. The President has been at pains to respect the Constitution. Every action, which he takes is underpinned by the provisions of the Constitution and so it is quite surprising to me that the Bar Association having regard to what the President has actually said that he respects the Constitution and that he will act in accordance, that the Bar Association arrived at a conclusion that basically says that the current climate is repugnant and shakes the public confidence in the justice system. Never before in the history of this country have we had nearly all judicial appointments filled. We do not have positions now that are unfilled. Acting on advice from the Chancellor of the Judiciary and the Judicial Services Commission (JSC), the President has appointed Justices of Appeal for short terms to deal with backlog of cases,” Minister Harmon said.
The Minister of State further said that it is under this administration that the Judiciary has been strengthened, with Government’s emphasis on integrity, impartiality and independence. He said that while the Leader of the Opposition would have rejected the nominations for the two posts, no explanations were provided to the Government or the Guyanese society on his disapproval with no public outcry. He note,d however, that when the Head of State had rejected the nominations for the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM), the GBA was one of the many organisations, which voiced their discontent and called for explanations to be given.
“I don’t know what would have motivated them to take this position because the last consultation that was held between the Leader of the Opposition and the President, the Leader of the Opposition took a position that he was not in support of the nomination and he chose to give no reasons. Now when His Excellency, the President had to deal with the appointment of the Chairman of GECOM and the nominations by the Leader of the Opposition, he basically said that he did not give reasons for his decision because it is a small country and personalities and characters can be damaged in a certain way. The Bar Association was among many that criticised the President on that and actually went to Court to get a ruling that the President must give reasons. Now Mr. Jagdeo has taken this same position and they make no statement about it. It is saying to me that the Bar Association is going down a very dangerous line. People should not be afraid that the President will act arbitrarily. The President will never act arbitrarily,” Minister Harmon said.
President Granger, in his address at Justice Khan’s swearing in ceremony made clear that Guyana is a state governed by laws and the Constitution of Guyana, which is the supreme law of the land, will, at all times, be respected. The GBA’s statement, which can be interpreted as premature and potentially misleading follows closely on the heels of a repeated commitment by the Head of State to uphold the tenets of the Constitution of Guyana and ensure that the judicial system is one that reflects the values of independence, impartiality and integrity.
“The supreme Law of the land is the Constitution of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana which provides (at Article 149D (1), that: “The State shall not deny to any person equality before the law or equal protection and benefit of the law. An efficient and independent judiciary, therefore, supports citizens’ rights to the equal protection and benefit of the law. A full complement of legal officers, magistrates and judges enables judicial efficiency, ensures that citizens’ cases are heard expeditiously and enhances public confidence in the rule of law,” he said.
The Ministry of the Presidency uses this opportunity to assure the GBA and all Guyanese that this administration remains committed to upholding the Constitution of Guyana. Any suggestion that it is not or intends to do otherwise is not based in fact nor is there any evidence to suggest that this ominous warning from the GBA, which has to potential to create unwarranted fear, was required.