September 29, 2016

Judges can interrupt leave to deliver rulings – acting CJ

Pre-retirement decisions

… after taking oath of office as JSC member

In light of the controversies stemming from a ruling handed down by now retired acting Chief Justice Ian Chang while he was on his pre-retirement leave, his successor believes that nothing was unusual with what he did.

President David Granger (centre) and Justice Yonnette Cummings-Edwards (third from left) along with other members of the Judicial Service Commission, as well as Minister of State Joseph Harmon (third from right)

President David Granger (centre) and Justice Yonnette Cummings-Edwards (third from left) along with other members of the Judicial Service Commission, as well as Minister of State Joseph Harmon (third from right)

Recently appointment acting Chief Justice, Justice Yonnette Cummings-Edwards, who was also on Wednesday appointed a member of the Judiciary Service Commission (JSC), explained that it has been the practice of Judges to come out of their pre-retirement leave to deliver decisions on cases which they have heard.

“The then acting Chief Justice had some matters that were part-heard before him (in which) decisions were pending and he came out and gave his decisions on that,” she stated, while adding that Justice Chang “had not demitted office… He was on leave and those matters were part heard before him… (and) he chose to come and give the decision rather than have the matter done over… there have been cases before where Judges, as far as I can recall, came out,” the new acting Chief Justice posited.

Moreover, Justice Cummings-Edwards further pointed out that the legislation is “silent” on whether Judges are allowed to deliver rulings in such situations.

The former acting Chief Justice on February 19 ruled that Minister of Citizenship Winston Felix and Junior Social Protection Minister Keith Scott cannot sit as technocrat members in the National Assembly, since they are candidates on the A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance For Change (APNU/AFC) successful List of Candidates for the May 2015 General and Regional Elections.

Following the ruling, several Government representatives, including President David Granger as well as Attorney General and Legal Affairs Minister Basil Williams had expressed concerns over the fact that the then outgoing Chief Justice came out of his pre-retirement leave to hand down the controversial ruling.

The Head of State had subsequently expressed his surprise at the ruling, particularly, since Justice Change had to come out of his leave to deliver it.  “It was rather regrettable that the former acting Chief Justice should come out of his leave to issue such an order… I was very astonished that Justice Chang’s ruling and the circumstances under which he decided to deliver that ruling,” the Head of State had remarked.

Furthermore, Attorney General Williams also posited that he was not given an opportunity to respond to the decision of the court. Nevertheless, Government has since successfully applied for a stay of execution on the ruling, thus allowing the two Ministers to return to the National Assembly.

Meanwhile, Justice Cummings-Edwards, by virtue of her appointment as acting Chief Justice, was sworn-in as a member of the Judicial Service Commission by President Granger on Wednesday at the Ministry of the Presidency. Her appointment was a statutory requirement in accordance with the Constitution of Guyana.

It was done in the presence of Chancellor of the Judiciary, Justice Carl Singh; Minister of State Joseph Harmon; Attorney General and Legal Affairs Minister Basil Williams; Justice Prem Persaud; and Justice Lennox Perry.

In congratulating Justice Cummings-Edwards on her new appointment, President Granger noted that this is one of the many steps taken by his Government to ensure that integrity and professionalism within the judiciary is preserved and at the same time ensuring public confidence in the system is restored.

“We have taken measures to ensure that the autonomy and integrity of the Judiciary in Guyana is not just a matter of prescription but is also a matter of fact, and together with the Minister of Legal Affairs and the Minister of State, and the other members of the National Assembly, this year 2016, we have taken a step forward and I want to assure you, Honourable Chancellor that we will continue to work towards preserving the dignity and integrity of the Judicial Service Commission,” the Head of State remarked.

He added that in doing so, “we have, so far, been able to win the confidence of the public and we will continue to ensure that not only the complement of the JSC is kept in accordance with the law but also the confidence and the competence of the members of that Commission are always above reproach.”

He added that while the ceremony was a simple one, its significance should not be taken for granted. On this note, Head of State further expressed full confidence in the new acting Chief Justice’s ability, stating that it is his belief that she will discharge her function without fear or favour, affection or ill-will.

This was a position adopted by the Justice Cummings-Edwards, who told reporters that following her swearing-in that she intends to “perform the functions there without fear or favour, affection or ill-will and to continue the work of that body”.

The acting Chief Justice who began her law career in 1988, was nominated by the Government as the most qualified candidate for the position of acting Chief Justice back in December. She was confirmed in December following consultations with Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo.

Before her appointment as acting Chief Justice, she previously served as an Appeal Court Judge for many years. Justice Cummings-Edwards is the second woman to be appointed to the position of Chief Justice – the first being Justice Desiree Bernard.

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