Judges should be held accountable for delayed judgements – AG
…says sloth of Judiciary a regular complaint
Delays in the judicial system are a topic Attorney General Anil Nandlall, SC, has previously confronted and has done so again, affirming that Judges should be held accountable for the chronic delivery of delayed judgements.
Nandlall made the comments during a virtual town hall meeting set up by the University of the West Indies’ Cave Hill Campus, that dealt with constitutional reform and the judicial selection process.
The AG emphasised the importance of Judges having security of tenure, noting that such protections are the cornerstone of democracy. But he noted that when Judges are not discharging their duty in a timely manner and this is having a serious effect on the administering of justice, there is a need for accountability.
“For example, the inability to deliver judgements on time and when it becomes chronic and amounts to a dereliction of duty, then that by itself should morph into what the Constitution speaks to as misbehaviour. So, while you have security of tenure, at the same time you have responsibilities and you can be removed for misbehaviour, as all the Constitutions provide.”
“But that misbehaviour must embrace the inability to discharge core judicial responsibilities. Which must be to write judgements in a timely manner, having regard to speedy justice and protection of the law… after all, the Judiciary is funded by public monies. As a politician, I have to answer every day to my constituency about cases not being heard, judgements not being handed out,” he said.
He noted that there is nothing he can do when persons come to him to question the sloth of the Judiciary, other than to ask those persons to have their lawyers write the presiding Judges. This is a situation that he acknowledged happens throughout the Caribbean.
Nandlall had previously flagged the backlog of cases in the Judiciary, including the Court of Appeal. Last year, he had said that the delay has resulted in massive miscarriages of justice, and although the backlog has been cleared in the civil division of the High Court, there remains stagnation in the Criminal Assizes, the Court of Appeal, and the Magistrates’ Courts.
The findings of a previous United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) report had highlighted that one of the factors in the backlog in cases that have been plaguing the criminal justice system for years is a shortage of Judges.
The report had noted that in Guyana, while there is no shortage of criminal attorneys-at-law, there were only 14 of the expected 20 High Court Judges, and three of the expected five Court of Appeal Judges, at the time.
“If the present cadre of Judges is not increased, then the issue of backlogs will not be addressed. It is recommended that further options for increasing the human resource capacity, including for Judicial legal research assistants, Judges, prosecutors, and trained mediators, be explored,” the report had stated.
Whilst the assignment of temporary Judges has been used in the past in the Court of Appeal, this is not seen as a permanent solution, the report further noted. Rafiq Khan, SC, and Dr Christopher Bulkan were the last two temporary Judges to be appointed to the Court of Appeal. They were appointed to the post in January and February 2018, respectively.
Guyana is meanwhile without a Judicial Service Commission (JSC), the constitutional body responsible for advising the President on the appointment of Judges, with the exception of the Chancellor and the Chief Justice. The last JSC expired in 2017. However, President Dr Irfaan Ali has said that the Government is working on appointing the JSC.
The JSC’s powers also include the power to remove and to exercise disciplinary control over persons holding or acting in the following offices – Commissioner of Title, Magistrate, Director of Public Prosecutions, Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions, Registrar of the High Court, Deputy Registrar of the High Court, Registrar of Deeds and Deputy Registrar of Deeds and to such offices connected with the courts or for appointment to which legal qualifications are required as may be prescribed by Parliament. (G3)