New chancellor, chief justice call for improved salaries, working conditions
Pledge to restore confidence in judiciary

By Samantha Alleyne
Stabroek News
May 12, 2001

Newly appointed Chancellor of the Judiciary, Desiree Bernard, and Chief Justice, Carl Singh, feel that the government should pull its weight and give immediate attention to improving the salaries and working conditions of judges and magistrates.

They made these remarks at the convening of a special sitting of the Supreme Court of Judicature to welcome them, during which several speakers made glowing remarks about them. Former Chancellor of the Judiciary Cecil Kennard was unavoidably absent. Praise was also showered upon him by the speakers.

A number of lawyers, magistrates, High Court judges, justices of appeal and well-wishers, including the British High Commissioner, Edward Glover and his wife Audrey attended the sitting at the Guyana Court of Appeal.

The two new appointees also have as their ultimate goals to restore the public's confidence in the judiciary. They are aware that they take up the mantles of there respective jobs at a time when there is much to be done.

In her speech Chancellor Bernard, the first woman in the Caribbean to head the judiciary, said that yesterday was not about her achievement although she was proud, but the administration of justice.

One of the reasons why people have lost confidence in the judiciary is the length of time taken for decisions to be given, she said, adding that she was well aware of the daunting challenges she faced as head of the judiciary and that the list of ills that befall the judiciary continued to rise. "We have failed to rise to the occasion and we have failed to deliver," she said.

And while other Caribbean countries are in the twenty-first century Guyana was still in the twentieth or even the nineteenth century, according to Chancellor Bernard. Explaining, the Chancellor said that after taking up office she was appalled to learn that employees of the Appeal Court still used typewriters, which had to be repaired ever so often.

She said that nothing should be spared in improving the working conditions of the judiciary. Mention was made of the fact that those sitting on the benches still had to painstakingly write by hand, whatever transpired in court.

Because of the poor salaries and working conditions, she said, many of those in private practice were not keen on even briefly sitting as a magistrate or a High Court judge. She said that shortly she would serve notice on the senior counsel in the legal system to meet her and urge them to use some persuasion to get some of the younger lawyers to do stints on the bench.

She added that the time was long overdue for the registry to be computerized and said that she was tired of seeing dog-eared files.

The chancellor urged those present to dispense justice and do it independently. She recalled the statement by President Bharrat Jagdeo at her recent swearing in where he said that he would allow the judiciary to act independently.

But even though it is agreed that the salaries and working conditions of those employed in the judiciary and the magistracy left a lot to be desired, the judges, justices of appeal and the magistrates also have work to do. The chancellor made mention of the number of adjournments given to lawyers who sometimes found the most frivolous reasons to seek adjournments in court. She urged that those on the benches dispose of matters as speedily as possible so that justice could be done.

The chancellor made the commitment to live up to the oath she took and promised that all her decisions would be made fairly and without malice.

Chief Justice Singh, who spoke before the chancellor, expressed some of the very sentiments offered by the chancellor.

Justice Singh is the first West Indian-trained lawyer to attain the office of Chief Justice.

The chief justice acknowledged the importance of his job and promised to serve competently. He also wants the registry to be computerized and said he had already spoken with the Registrar of the Supreme Court, Sita Ramlall, and they had discussed ways of improving the registry. He also met the High Court judges and detected a very receptive and responsive attitude. He said that he was impatient to see a number of things being improved in the judiciary. He was impatient to see that the High Court compound was cleared of all the vehicles that were impounded. This comment brought thunderous applause from those present. The chief justice is also impatient for a better-equipped library for judges and also for a computer room for judges where they could access the Internet and do much-needed research.

While he would fight to the bitter end for the improvement of the judges' working conditions, the chief justice pointed out that the judges also needed to pull their weight in the expeditious conclusion of cases. He feels that only when all those things are achieved, would the negative perception of the judiciary dissipate.

Ten other speakers at the yesterday's special sitting spoke glowingly of the two new appointees' achievements and suggested ways in which the judiciary could move forward.

Those speakers were: Senior Counsel (SC) Cecil Dhurjon who represented the Attorney-General; Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Dennis Hanomansingh; President of the Guyana Bar Association, Anande Trotman; President of the Guyana Association of Women Lawyers, Rosemary Benjamin-Noble; Chief Magistrate, Paul Fung-A-Fat, Clarence Hughes, SC; Ralph Ramkarran, SC; Justice Nandram Kissoon and Justice Winston Moore.

Most of the speeches referred to the chancellor's experience in the law and made mention of her many contributions to dozens of organizations both locally and overseas. It was noted that she had well-rounded experience which would inevitably continue to guide her on the bench.

They noted that the chief justice had also shown a certain commitment to his work, which was a cut above the rest. Mention was made of the long hours he spent in his chambers and in the library writing judgments.

Hughes pointed out that it was not the fact that the chancellor had a degree, 16 years of distinguished practice, was the first female chief justice and is the first female chancellor that distinguished her, but it was her sense of justice and her perpetual wish to render each man his due. He said that she always sought to give each person before her a fair trial. He said that the time has come for the country to regain the eminence it once occupied in the Caribbean judiciary and laid that task squarely at the feet of the new chancellor telling her that it was her challenge.

He also said that the chief justice brought vigour to his office and said "we all know how hard you work." The chief justice, he said, had a high degree of enthusiasm and commitment to his job and the energy to match.

Justice Kissoon said that chancellor had now taken her rightful place in the country as she would see that the scales of justice were balanced for all those seeking their due.

Justice Moore noted that the chancellor and the chief justice had assumed their offices at a crucial time of the country's journey. He assured that they would receive the full support of all the judges and said that the judges would ask not what the system could do for them but what they could do for the system.