Bar Assoc. talk of unconstitutional appointment of Chancellor, Chief Justice “reckless”- Harmon; questions association’s motives

Last Updated on Tuesday, 20 February 2018, 7:32 by Denis Chabrol

Minister of State, Joseph Harmon.

The Guyana government has dismissed concerns by the Guyana Bar Association (GBA) that President David Granger appeared set to unconstitutionally appoint his nominees to act as Chancellor of the Judiciary and Chief Justice.

“The Ministry of the Presidency uses this opportunity to assure the GBA and all Guyanese that this administration remains committed to upholding the Constitution of Guyana. Any suggestion that it is not or intends to do otherwise is not based in fact nor is there any evidence to suggest that this ominous warning from the GBA, which has to potential to create unwarranted fear, was required,” government said.

In a statement late Monday night, Minister of State Joseph Harmon recalled that President David Granger on February 14, 2018 had said that the appointment of full-time office holders of Guyana’s two top judicial  advisors require the Opposition Leader’s approval.  “I have to be advised by my Minister of Legal Affairs and Attorney General. We cannot be without a Chancellor and a Chief Justice because right now two persons are acting and I had hoped that we could have moved forward by having a substantive or a full time appointment agreed, but this has not happened and the Constitution requires me to await the approval of the Leader of the Opposition and this hasn’t come so I will have to depend on legal advice and make sure that the Courts continue to function,” President Granger said.

Questioning the motives of the GBA statement in which that organisation warned that “any action outside of the said Article 127 is unconstitutional, void, of no legal effect and would have embarrassing consequences”, the Ministry of the Presidency said that perplexing statement was made without any indication from the administration of any intention to ever operate outside of the Constitution of Guyana. The GBA’s concerns appear to stem from Harmon’s own remarks at a post-cabinet news briefing on February 8, 2018 when he had said that government would be using other constitutional provisions for meaningful consultations between the President and the Opposition Leader for Justices Benjamin and Cummings-Edwards to be appointed otherwise to act as Chancellor and Chief Justice.  “There is a constitutional position which we’ll look at and if, in fact, there is no agreement for them to be appointed in the substantive position, then,as I said, there is constitutional provision for them to be appointed otherwise,” Harmon said earlier this month.

Minister of State, Joseph Harmon also suggested that the GBA was inconsistent in its call for reasons to be given if someone is not selected, saying that that association had even moved to the High Court to press for the President to give reasons why Opposition Leader Bharrat Jagdeo’s nominees for the post of Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM). However, Harmon said the Bar Association has not similarly pressed Jagdeo to give reasons why he has blocked the appointment of Granger’s nominees- Justice Kenneth Benjamin for Chancellor of the Judiciary and Justice Yonette Cummings-Edwards for the post of Chief Justice.

“I don’t know what would have motivated them to take this position because the last consultation that was held between the Leader of the Opposition and the President, the Leader of the Opposition took a position that he was not in support of the nomination and he chose to give no reasons. Now when His Excellency, the President had to deal with the appointment of the Chairman of GECOM and the nominations by the Leader of the Opposition, he basically said that he did not give reasons for his decision because it is a small country and personalities and characters can be damaged in a certain way. The Bar Association was among many that criticised the President on that and actually went to Court to get a ruling that the President must give reasons. Now Mr. Jagdeo has taken this same position and they make no statement about it. It is saying to me that the Bar Association is going down a very dangerous line.

Minister Harmon said that he was concerned at the dangerous path that the Association is treading with its insinuations and strong assertions, despite the public statements made by the Head of State with regard to upholding of the Constitution. He described as “reckless” the statement attributed to the Association, which states that the climate surrounding the appointment of the two offices is “repugnant and shakes the public confidence in the legal system. It further unfairly undermines the dignity of the offices and office holders”.

“This is a rash statement from a Bar Association… more importantly having regard for the recent actions of the administration in ensuring that at all material times that the appointments to the Judiciary were made in good time and based on the advice of the Judicial Services Commission…Never before in the history of this country have we had nearly all judicial appointments filled. We do not have positions now that are unfilled. Acting on advice from the Chancellor of the Judiciary and the Judicial Services Commission (JSC), the President has appointed Justices of Appeal for short terms to deal with backlog of cases,” Minister Harmon said.

The Minister of State further said that it is under this administration that the Judiciary has been strengthened, with Government’s emphasis on integrity, impartiality and independence. “People should not be afraid that the President will act arbitrarily. The President will never act arbitrarily,” Minister Harmon said.