Judicial review report
Money biggest block to implementation - CJ
Speedier judgements promised By Gitanjali Singh
Stabroek News
September 29, 2001

The United Kingdom judges' report recommending reform of Guyana's justice system was yesterday released 14 months after it was submitted but a major stumbling block to implementing changes is financing.

Chief Justice Carl Singh said that while he deeply appreciated the work done in the report and the recommendations made, his concern was the financing to implement the recommendations.

"My own view is that it is good to have the study done and hear of the recommendations. But it is not good for that to be the end, as it will be an exercise in futility if we don't get the finances to see the recommendations through," Singh told reporters yesterday. He said that while he was sure the finances could be made available, the big question was when.

From left are Chancellor of the Judiciary Desiree Bernard, Attorney General Doodnauth Singh, Chief Justice Carl Singh and British High Commissioner to Guyana Edward Glover.

Retired UK judges, Esyr Lewis and John Baker, were engaged by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and came to Guyana in April last year, to review the judicial system. Among the recommendations they made was for the complement of judges to be increased and temporary and part-time judges hired to help clear the backlog of cases before the judiciary.

However, Chancellor of the Judiciary, Justice Desiree Bernard, said yesterday that the major deterrent to filling the existing vacancies in the judiciary was the remuneration package being offered.

She said there were only seven judges, plus the chief justice on the bench and currently there were four vacancies. The report recommended that the complement of judges be increased to 14, which would raise the vacancies to seven. She said that strenuous efforts had been made to persuade persons from the practising Bar to join the judiciary.

"Inevitably, the answer is a resounding no," Justice Bernard said yesterday, underscoring that the bottom line to resolving the issue of increasing the complement of judges and reducing the backlog in the system was money.

Her views were supported fully by Justice Singh and Attorney General Doodnauth Singh, also present at the official release of the report at the Court of Appeal yesterday. British High Commissioner to Guyana, Edward Glover was also present.

"The salary for judges is the single most important contributory factor to our inability to attract judges as it operates as a deterrent to suitably qualified people coming forward and offering themselves or accepting offers of appointment within the justice system," Doodnauth Singh told Stabroek News.

The attorney general, who recently returned to Guyana after heart bypass surgery, indicated that a proposal had been made to the government to offer tax-free salaries to judges and he would follow up on this at the next Cabinet meeting. He further said that a proposal to offer judges salaries along the lines of what other CARICOM states were offering had been put to Cabinet.

Justice Singh indicated that a commitment had been secured from the government that it would look at this issue seriously.

Justice Bernard indicated that the time had long gone when qualified and experienced practitioners felt that it was prestigious to serve the judiciary. Now it was an issue of "bread and butter". She said that while the judiciary could never hope to remunerate legal minds for what they can earned in private practice, it could work on making the package attractive. She noted that judicial life was an extremely difficult vocation as one has to keep reading and be focused and unless someone was committed to the rule of the law, they would not be interested in the profession.

Doodnauth Singh, also Minister of Legal Affairs, only received his copy of the report yesterday and was not in a position to say what the government's position was. However, three members of the Lord Chancellor's Department are due here tomorrow to discuss with the Attorney General's office and the judiciary, aspects of implementation of the report. The team will be headed by Judge Martin Stephens, QC and will comprise Judith Lennard, head of the Equal Opportunities Branch, Judicial Service and Mark Camely, director of Criminal Business, Court Service.

But despite the financial constraint, Justices Bernard and Singh have begun to work on the implementation of the non?financial aspects of the report.

Justice Singh, noting that a major plank of the report dealt with the backlog in cases, said that since he assumed office in May, he has been working with the registrar to tackle this issue. He said a process was underway to evaluate how far the backlog reached.

He indicated that judges had already furnished him with some information on the cases before them and some more information was to be given to him by Monday as well as a time commitment on when these cases would be heard.

Justice Singh said that given the constraint of the shortage of judges, the issue could not be tackled head-on and it might not even be undertaken successfully if there was a full complement of judges. However, he said, he had reached an agreement with the current judges that a form of evaluation would be implemented for cases in the civil jurisdiction, as well as a three-month period for the delivery of judgements from the time of completion of hearings. He said he had received a commitment that this time frame would be honoured, despite the constraints under which the judges operated.

He said one of the greatest difficulties facing judges was the ill-equipped law library and this slowed down the rate of achievement. He said three computers had been surrendered to the library and efforts were now underway to link these to the Internet so those judges could have access to the most updated records required.

Justice Singh pointed out that one of the findings of the report was that counsel of the Bar were leaving the judges to do their research, in the case of material to back their arguments. He said that the judges were in charge of the trials, but the lawyers must produce the material for a timely delivery of justice.

Justice Bernard said that another of the recommendations had to do with the revision of the rules of the court and she was now working to have the rules committee re-established. She said she hoped that the first meeting could be held next week and the primary focus would be the revision of fees for filing cases. She told reporters that for as little as $100, cases involving millions were filed.

As regards part-time judges, she noted that the legislation had been passed to deal with that and parliament would have to decide on the terms and conditions under which such appointments would be made.

She acknowledged that judges needed to appreciate that it was the prompt delivery of judgements which would go a long way to restore confidence in the judicial system. She said she also recognised that the judges were swamped but said if needs be they would have to work round the clock to get the work done.

The Chancellor also said she has completed a draft code of conduct for the judiciary and was discussing this with Justice Singh, as in Guyana today, generally, anything goes.

Justice Bernard said that while much was being said about backlogged cases in Guyana, she had sought information from other states in the region and found that in Trinidad it takes eight years to get a hearing, whereas in Guyana it was five years. She also noted that the High Court in Trinidad was serviced by 22 judges and in Jamaica 28, while Guyana's requirement was 11. She also noted that Guyana had as many cases as Jamaica which had almost double Guyana's population.

Lewis and Baker, in their report, cited the shortcomings of the judicial system. Among their recommendations on the rules of the High Court was that they could be much improved if they were written in language more easily understood by laymen.

A host of other recommendations covering sentencing guidelines, sentencing options, filling vacancies and other issues are covered in the 57-page report.