Getting it right on Judicial appointments
Guyana Chronicle
October 14, 2001

WHILE much focus is rightly being placed on the pressures from the USA on the deportation back home of Guyanese who have fallen foul of the law in that country, there is another sensitive issue of national importance that requires careful consideration.

It is one that pertains to increased salaries for members of the judiciary and of judicial reform in the interest of justice for all with the minimum of delays.

President Bharrat Jagdeo made a very interesting intervention recently at a press conference with the observation that contrary to views in some quarters, he did not think that the single most important factor in attracting qualified persons to the judiciary was the salary scale.

If that were true, according to the reasoning of the President, who also recognises the need to improve salaries for our judges and magistrates, then why then private lawyers, who are declaring incomes below that of judges, have not been applying for judicial appointments.

The President may well have put the proverbial cat among the pigeons when he told the media that from according to a report from the revenue agency, only about five of the country's many lawyers had declared incomes for tax purposes in excess of that of a judge.

Currently, a judge receives a monthly salary of $400,000, in addition to allowances covering an annual overseas trip, a state-provided vehicle and other benefits.

Improved Efficiency
Jagdeo said he would like improvement in salaries and allowances for all members of the judiciary, now earning more than himself as President and cabinet ministers. But this has to be pursued in the context of the entire public service as well as improvement in the efficiency of the criminal justice system.

The President clearly touched on an aspect that remains a major concern for a lot of people involved in litigations in our courts. That is, the long delays in delivering written judgements, in contrast to the alacrity with which 'ex parte' injunctions are granted, often with serious disruptions in the lives of many people for long periods.

The President's observations would not have escaped the attention of Chancellor of the Judiciary, Desiree Bernard, and Chief Justice Carl Singh. Indeed, the President was careful to emphasise his personal confidence in both the Chancellor and the Chief Justice to help bring about needed judicial reforms to strengthen public confidence in the judicial system.

The government obviously has the responsibility to move with some haste in the implementation of recommendations that include the filling of vacancies and to remove excuses for the huge backlog of cases.

At the same time, there needs to be consideration also, at other levels, of the apparent lack of interest in judicial appointments by lawyers in private practice, claiming to earn incomes that are quite below the salaries of judges, but allowing the view to be perpetuated that the existing salary scale for the judiciary has something to do with the problem of attracting applicants for judicial appointments.

Naturally, qualifications and experience will have to be the criteria in making appointments. The hope is that those really interested in competence and integrity in the judicial system and the quality of justice will seek to offer their guidance in the efforts to promote judicial reform.