Fundamental to our constitutional democracy is the doctrine of Separation of Powers. Under that doctrine, the Judiciary is that branch of the Government vested with the sole and exclusive responsibility to pronounce conclusively on legal matters. Additionally, the Judiciary is the guardian of our Constitution and only the Judiciary can pronounce conclusively on the Constitution, its interpretation and effect.
Against this backdrop, the statements attributed in the press to the President on acting Chief Justice Roxane George’s recent ruling on the Marcel Gaskin matter are nothing short of an aggravated assault on the doctrine of Separation of Powers, the Constitution itself and on the Chief Justice of this country.
There are the most intemperate and contumacious utterances emanating from a Head of State and directed to a Chief Justice in the English-speaking Caribbean in recent memory.
The President must understand that in the face of a pronouncement from the Judiciary on legal and constitutional matters, his obdurate and obstinate personal perceptions of what the Constitution says or means fade into oblivion and must yield in deference to those judicial pronouncements, whether he agrees with them or not. That is the unconditional and unqualified duty of every citizen of this land, without exception.
Unfortunately, the President’s remarks are not isolated. To understand the gravity of this situation, it is necessary to examine the President’s remarks against a larger mosaic of similar conduct from other functionaries in his Administration.
The Attorney General, the Chief Legal Advisor of the Government, is on record of unleashing a most scandalising attack on the former Chancellor of the Judiciary, as a result of a recent decision delivered by the Court of Appeals of which the Chancellor was the President.
This was followed by the very Attorney General launching another contemptuous tirade against a High Court judge in open court causing that Judge to unceremoniously walk off the bench and lodge a letter of complaint with his superiors.
Then you have a series of well-documented policies and actions designed to undermine similarly independent constitutional oversight bodies.
In this admixture, one must add the fact that the President dithered and dilated for one and a half years on recommendations from the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) to appoint Judges, when the Constitution mandates him to act promptly.
Lastly, the nation is also aware of the President’s belief that he can determine the legality of important documents such as 99-year-old leases and eject from the leasehold premises the occupants within 48 hours, without any resort to the Judiciary.
The above are by no means exhaustive. But they all support a contention which I have consistently advanced over the last two years that there is a rise of authoritarianism in Guyana and that the authoritarian perceives democratic and constitutional institutions as nothing but obstacles. This recent incident has again vindicated my contentions.
It is the duty of every citizen to protect and preserve the independence of our Judiciary and similar independent institutions. For it is only the Judiciary and those institutions, which will restrain this Administration from continuing to violate the rule of law, our Constitution and the civil liberties of our citizens. We need them now more than ever.