Chancellor suggests code of ethics for judges, magistrates

by Wendella Davidson
Guyana Chronicle
June 12, 2001

CHANCELLOR of the Judiciary, Ms. Desiree Bernard feels a code of ethics should be in place for judges and magistrates.

According to the Chancellor no such professional guidelines existed previously because it was probably the understanding that persons holding the office of judges and magistrates knew that they should conduct themselves in a certain way.

But, she said, it is the view in some circles that such a guideline has become necessary in today's world.

Chancellor Bernard's observation was in response to a query following a presentation titled `The Judiciary and the Citizen' on Monday night.

The lecture, which was open to the public, was at the invitation of the Lions Club of Bel Air, Georgetown and the venue was the club's Civic Centre in Campbellville.

The Chancellor said she has been giving the idea some consideration since assuming her new position, and has already started discussions in some quarters with a view to getting such practising guideline in effect.

She lamented too the apparent lack of communication between lawyers and clients over the years, recalling that as Chief Justice she had been approached by many clients who contended that they were experiencing difficulty in seeing their lawyers.

Clients, the Chancellor said, complained of being able to seeing their lawyers only in court, and not at their Chambers unless they have money to hand over.

She added that some of the clients of lawyers who visited her, wanted to know basic information such as the status of their cases, information to which they were not privy although lawyers had been taking money from them.

And on the issue of fees charged by lawyers, Chancellor Bernard agreed that some rates are too exorbitant, but pointed out that the judiciary has no control over such matters.

In her introduction, the Chancellor told the audience that the public generally has always regarded the judiciary with a sense of awe and mystery, and considered the persons who hold the office as those occupying the rarified stratosphere in the society.

She remarked that such a situation existed in colonial times, and though in the immediate post-Independence era some of the awe had diminished with the advent of local judges known to the majority of the population, there was still a certain mystique attached to the office.

She said this was born of the fact that the average citizen has no idea of how the system of justice works.

This, the Chancellor said, has led to misconceptions and simplistic assumptions.

These included the feeling that a judge (or a magistrate) has an unfettered discretion to decide on the guilt or innocence of a person appearing before him/her or to enter judgment or dismiss a case at will.

There is absolutely no understanding of what is involved in dispensing justice, she felt.

There is also the perplexity in trying to understand how one can be morally right but legally wrong or vice versa, she noted, adding that sad to say the law does not always follow morality.

A structure of the court system which comprises the Magistrate's courts, High courts, and the Court of Appeal as well as the Full Court, which is a division of the High Court, and the Land Court, and how and where matters are dispensed were among areas addressed in the lecture.