Jagdeo, Nandlall defend right to “fair comment” on court decisions

Last Updated on Thursday, 18 May 2023, 19:07 by Denis Chabrol

Vice President Bharrat Jagdeo and Attorney General Anil Nandlall on Thursday said they have a right comment on court decisions, in the wake of a stinging condemnation by the Guyana Association of Women Lawyers (GAWL).

Hours after that association criticised Mr Nandlall for commenting on Magistrate Leeron Daly’s dismissal of a misconduct in public office case against then Finance Minister Winston Jordan on the grounds that he was not a public officer, Mr Nandlall lashed back insisting that he enjoys the right to comment on bad court decisions. “In short, the learned Magistrate chose to ignore the decisions of both the Hon.
Chief Justice and the CCJ by which she is bound. It is this omission to which I pointed and described as an “elementary egregious error”. I resolutely maintain that I am entitled to express such a view and that the same falls within the bounds of permissible criticism countenanced by law,” he said.

GAWL, however, feared that criticisms of decisions publicly could bring the administration of justice into disrepute and reduce public confidence in the judiciary.

Mr Nandlall said his position was fortified in the fact that the written decision by Chief Justice Roxane George-Wiltshire in an almost identical case that a government minister is a public officer was provided to Magistrate Daly but she still dismissed the case.

For his part, Mr Jagdeo had criticised High Court Judge, Sandil Kissoon’s decision against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)  that could see ExxonMobil having to suspend oil production from the Liza 1 well if unlimited insurance or parent company guarantee is not provided. An appeal has been filed, and so far the Court of Appeal has not granted a stay of Justice Kissoon’s orders.

Mr Jagdeo on Thursday indicated that he was exercising his constitutional right to freedom of expression by making observations about the decision rather than launch personal attacks on the judge. “If citizens of a country and more so those who are part of public policy can’t comment on a judgment that is made, then you’re taking away some of the freedoms I have that are enshrined in the constitution,” he said.

The Vice President said commenting on a judgment one way or the other amounts to “fair comment” and should be available to every Guyanese, particularly those in public policy who have to deal with the consequences of a decision.

Mr Jagdeo restated that Guyana was now playing on the global stage and decisions by the court or the EPA would have a major impact on the country’s investment climate, jobs and the overall well-being. Mr Jagdeo had last week said the court should make predictable decisions.