Why Did Opposition Leader Block Justice Cummings Appointment as Chief Justice?
Enough of the shenanigans: The Bar Association should ask the Opposition Leader why he blocked the appointment of Justice Yonnette Cummings-Edwards as substantive Chief Justice?
The March 10, 2018 edition of the Kaieteur Newspaper published an article captioned “Pressure mounts for appointments of Chancellor, CJ – Bar Association endorses Cummings-Edwards in top judiciary post.” This article stated, inter alia, “Treasurer of the Bar Association, Attorney-at-law Devendra Kissoon, in introducing the acting Chancellor, said she is a fiercely independent official. The lawyer urged that she and current acting Chief Justice, Roxane George-Wiltshire, two “wonderful persons” be confirmed. The introduction was met with a standing ovation.”
It is unfortunate that the acrimony and partisan politics that besiege the constitutional process of appointing a Chancellor of the Judiciary and Chief Justice contaminated this important professional forum, which I’m sure was intended to be nonpartisan. Some participants clandestinely rushed to the Kaieteur newspapers to disparage a specific presenter – the young, Afro-Guyanese female deputy dean of the law school of the University of the West Indies at St. Augustine, Trinidad & Tobago. Their disparagement evidently inspired the March 11, 2018 Kaieteur editorial which questioned her competency. The source of the scathing editorial is plain as day to me.
The ensuing rancor; disrespect alleged by the Attorney General and the conveyance of a political message to the President through a pretentious endorsement of the acting Chancellor, demonstrate why concurrent training of judicial officers and members of the bar, who practice before the said judiciary, is problematic; let alone the injudicious political posturing by some executive members of the Guyana Bar Association (GBA). This dilemma validates the position that such unorthodox circumstances should be avoided by an entity that is obligated to political neutrality.
I am, nonetheless, delighted that Mr. Kissoon has concluded that the character, professional qualifications and judicial temperament of Justice Yonnette Communings-Edwards, render her distinctly eligible to be appointed substantive Chancellor. This is my stated, unequivocal view. The government’s decision otherwise does not evince political perspicacity or strategic logic. The quandary suggests, therefore, that the status quo is the resolution.
I wish, however, that Mr. Kission and fellow GBA executives had sent this memo to Opposition Leader, Mr. Bharrat Jagdeo, who rejected Justice Cummings-Edwards’ nomination to be substantive Chief Justice. Consequently, Mr. Kissoon must inform the nation if he or the executive leadership of the GBA, on whose behalf he spoke, has chastised the Opposition Leader for rejecting the Eminent Madam Justice’s nomination to be substantive Chief Justice and whether they have asked Mr. Jagdeo for his reason for blocking the elevation of an Afro-Guyanese woman justice, who according to Mr. Kissoon, is a “wonderful” nominee?
The persons responsible for appointing our two highest judicial officers are the President and Opposition Leader – an abysmal arrangement that underscores the need for constitutional reform. The judiciary is too important to be the political football of two individuals. I believe this responsibility should be vested in the executive and legislatives branches, and not the President and Opposition Leader. The two are now equally responsible for the inherited, unacceptable constitutional quagmire that has damaged the judiciary and rendered the appointment process ineffectual.
While the GBA launched a partisan attack on the President for the breakdown, its actions have calculatedly absolved Mr. Jagdeo from responsibility. This partisan posture has tainted the association, and effectively portrays it as a tool of the political opposition. This is why the GBA must advise the nation of its position on Mr. Jagdeo’s rejection of Justice Cummings-Edwards’ nomination, whether it requested an explanation from Mr. Jagdeo and what is his stated reason. GBA members should not be allowed to get away with bludgeoning the President to disclose his reasons for rejected the Opposition Leader’s list of nominees but intentionally declining to ask the Opposition Leader why he rejected the President’s nomination of Justice Cummings-Edwards.
Caribbean Guyana Institute for Democracy (CGID)