On Tuesday, October 26, 2020, I noticed a post on social media indicating that Attorney General Mr Anil Nandlall and ANUG Chair Mr Timothy Jonas were appointed Senior Counsel (SC) by the President.
As Guyanese, including myself, started to offer their congratulations, my mind immediately flashed back to the case that Mr Jonas brought before the High Court, challenging the legality of appointment of 4 SCs by President David Granger on the grounds that such authority exists with the High Court and not with the President.
I immediately drew this apparent contradiction to readers, who produced several explanations, including the response that Mr Jonas was moved to take such action because Mr Granger was a Caretaker President and had no standing to make such an appointment. I insisted that was not the reason, and sent a copy of the Stabroek News’ article on the case.
On the following day, Mr Jonas was congratulated by Dr Vishnu Bisram, who appeared puzzled when Mr Jonas’s response reflected ambivalence over the appointment. While he claimed that he was contacted before and agreed to accept an SC honour, he nevertheless conceded that that was contingent upon the requisite approval by the Judiciary. In a letter to Stabroek News on October 30, 2020, Mr Jonas sought to clarify his position.
Mr Jonas writes that the grant of silk (SC) which “used to be exercised by the Queen, has now in Guyana passed to the judiciary, and any involvement by the Executive is ceremonial, subject always to the imprimatur of the Judiciary.”
He did not say when that authority was passed onto the Judiciary. He continued: “Politicization of the process and lack of transparency reduce public confidence, and cheapen the process itself.”
The perception conveyed is that Mr Jonas is committed to legal procedures, non-politicisation, and transparency, and that the process was politicised, and was not transparent. Whatever Mr Jonas’s rationale, it could not mitigate his duplicity and effort to embarrass the Government.
Despite the fact that his appointment was made in consultation with the Judiciary (and Mr Jonas himself says “the legal requirements identified by me had been met”) Mr Jonas was still skeptical, and indicated that he would wait until a ruling is delivered in his case that is before the High Court.
Mr Jonas also wrote the Chancellor of the Judiciary requesting not to take any steps in convening the Full Court of the High Court to admit him into the “Inner Bar,” until his case is heard and determined. This sounds like hypocrisy to me!
Did Mr Jonas’s purported appointment present an opportunity for him to highlight a role of moral gatekeeper of Guyanese politics? Was his action ethical, having been assured that the appointment has the imprimatur of the Judiciary? Further, when the David Granger list of SCs was first announced, with Mr Jonas’s name included, he did not object then to the process. It was only after his name was struck off the list by Attorney General Basil Williams that he decided to challenge the validity of the appointment of SCs, and chose to bring this case only after the PNCR left office. Doesn’t this type of attitude smell of hypocrisy?
Mr Nandall said in his Court submission that (i) the President, as the Supreme Executive Authority of Guyana, is vested with the exclusive prerogative to confer silk upon attorneys-at-law; (ii) the prerogative or power to confer silk was never vested in the judiciary of Guyana; and (iii) the President’s prerogative to confer silk does not infringe on judicial independence, nor is it unconstitutional in any other way. Even Mr Jonas’s lawyers suggest that the Judiciary might not have the power to confer silk upon any attorney-at-law.
While Mr Jonas still believes that the Judiciary has the authority to confer SC, and that the role of the executive is ceremonial, Mr Nandlall reminds us that the grant of all honours, including SC, is the prerogative of the President.
A review of court filing document (020-HC-DEM-CIV-FDA-627) reveals that Mr Nandlall has produced several precedents to support his position that the President is the proper authority to confer SC, as all other honours, while acknowledging that the consent of the High Court adds credibility to the occasion.
Dr Tara Singh