Last Updated on Sunday, 7 November 2021, 21:41 by Denis Chabrol
Former House Speaker, Senior Counsel Ralph Ramkarran on Sunday urged government to swiftly establish the Judicial Service Commission and that steps be taken to appoint more High Court judges and increase the required number of judges for the Court of Appeal in an effort to deal with the backlog of cases.
“In addressing the issue of the shortage of judges, the government may wish to consider filling vacancies in the judiciary,” he said in his latest weekly column, Conversation Tree.
He recommended that the complement of Court of Appeal judges be increased from five to seven or at least six, even as he highlighted that three judges have been presiding over the Court of Appeal. “There is a backlog in the Court of Appeal of about 5 years due principally to the chronic shortage of judges in that court,” said Mr. Ramkarran. He noted that it was believed that the Court of Appeal’s complement of judges had been fixed at five so there could easily be a majority decision if the full panel was sitting.
The prominent Attorney-at-Law argued that if the required number of justices of appeal is increased to seven, the backlog of cases in that court could be cleared if two sets of three judges preside over cases and the Chief Justice, who is an ex-officio justice of appeal, could be called in “if necessary, for a full bench sitting.” “With 6 judges, two panels of 3 can be sitting continuously so that the backlog is cleared and justice is not delayed,” he said.
Looking at the situation in the High Court, Mr. Ramkarran said while the required number of High Court judges is 20, there are only 12. “New civil procedure rules for the High Court have all but eliminated the back log and litigants can expect their matters to be concluded in not more than 18 months, depending on the judge, lawyers and the complexity of the matter,” he said.
With President Irfaan Ali stating categorically that there are no preconditions for meeting with Opposition Leader Joseph Harmon for required consultations on the appointment of constitutional office holders, Mr. Ramkarran hoped that the way was now clear for Guyana’s two top political leaders to agree on the appointment of a Judicial Service Commission. The former House Speaker did not hide his discontent with the narrow politicisation of the process for the establishment of constitutional commissions. “Since the elections, the appointment of the Judicial Service Commission, which is the only body that can make recommendations for the appointment of judges, has been held hostage to political considerations, namely, the demand by the Government for Opposition Leader, Joe Harmon, to acknowledge the legitimacy of the government as a pre-condition for consultations,” he said.
The appointment of a substantive Chancellor, Chief Justice and Police Commissioner as well as the Police Service Commission are all hinged on consultations between the President and the Opposition Leader.
President Ali recently promised to move ahead with a number of these appointments on his return from the Conference of the Parties Climate Change Summit in Glasgow.