Abolition of Chancellor of the Judiciary post proposed By Miranda La Rose
Stabroek News
April 7, 2002

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The Guyana Bar Association (GBA) is recommending that the post of Chancellor of the Judiciary be abolished, after the term of the incumbent, Chancellor Desiree Bernard, comes to an end, and the Chief Justice be the sole head of the entire judiciary.

The "initial" recommendation, one of several made yesterday, was presented by Senior Counsel Donald Trot-man on behalf of a sub-committee appointed by the GBA, at its two-day Law Confer-ence, which opened at Le Meridien Pegasus. The Chancellor of the Judiciary is also the president of the Court of Appeal and Trotman said that the committee recommended that one of the justices of the Appeal Court replace the chancellor in this capacity.

Trotman said that the objective was to save cost and avoid or reduce administrative conflicts (sometimes personal). It would, if implemented, also mark the removal of a residual judicial vestige from the past and bring it more in line with the country's republican status and conformity with head of other jurisdictions in the Caribbean Community.

Meanwhile, Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Doodnauth Singh, announced that the updating of the Laws of Guyana and the law reports up to December 2001 was underway, with the assistance of the National Democratic Institute. The laws have not been updated since 1977.

He also urged members of the GBA to look at the adequacy and inadequacy of the preliminary inquiry, the jury system, the uniformity of sentences, death penalty, human rights, victims rights and criminal procedure and reform among other issues.

Giving the main address at the opening of the conference, Minister of State in the Lord Chancellor's Department, Baroness Patricia Scotland, said that while she did not wish to interfere in anyway in the Guyana and Caribbean bars, she dared say that law reform in the region and the UK had a common base and the UK was willing to lend its assistance based on its experiences.

The British government, she noted, had many challenges in law reform including the reform of the criminal justice system. Getting the job done successfully, she said, included getting everyone in the profession involved in the process. This included getting members of the bar, the judiciary, academics, non-governmental organisations and others to make a contribution to the process to bring about positive and productive changes to people who will ultimately benefit.

Noting that the United Kingdom was proud of its relationship with the Caribbean, she said that the people of Britain come from all over the world including the Caribbean so that in meeting their needs, the Caribbean people must also be considered. Scotland was a member of the United Kingdom delegation to the Third Caribbean/ United Kingdom Forum held in Georgetown from Wednes-day to Friday. Good governance

Scotland, the deputy to the Lord Chancellor and who was very brief in her remarks, said that lawyers needed to contribute to the maintenance of good governance. It was for lawyers to keep the politicians honest, irrespective of political parties. They must have that independence of mind to ensure that they place "the pin upon the chair on which a politician sits."

She said that all jurists shared the common goal to make use of the rule of law, which was something that should not be underestimated. "If the rule of law reigns then justice reigns and all our people's rights are maintained," she said.

Stating that lawyers got involved in law to be the voices of voiceless and to ensure the equality and parity of treatment were available to all citizens, she reminded that justice was blind, "blind to colour, religion, wealth... division so that all who comes before the law are equal." Lawyers have a big role to play, she said because that blindness depended on them.

Coming out of the forum, four members of the judiciary would be going on attachment to the United Kingdom. And the Attorney General has suggested that perhaps a member of the public or private bar could be sent on a similar attachment to the Lord Chancellor's Chambers.

In a brief reference on the establishment of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), Singh said that there was need for the GBA to educate its members with what to expect of the CCJ. In the initial stages Guyana, Belize, Trinidad and Tobago and Barbados have made commitments to subscribing to the CCJ. He noted, too, that Jamaica's Prime Minister P.J. Patterson has given a commitment to the CCJ.

In addition to the appellate jurisdiction from the region, he said, there would be original dispute which would arise from amendments to the Treaty of Chaguaramas and the result of the creation of the Caribbean Single Market and Economy so that lawyers would have to be prepared to stake their positions and advocate their cases.

Among other recommendations presented yesterday, which Trotman said were still to be refined based on feedback, was for the appointment of a registrar, deputy registrar, a number of assistant registrars and other officers in the land court and land registry areas to carry out some sections of the land registry act.

Land court

Trotman said there was also need for more adequate remuneration and benefits for the commissioner of titles; adequate staffing for the land court, including sworn land surveyors to assist the commissioners, and adequate accommodation for staff and members of the land court.

The committee, he said also felt that the land court should be part of the High Court system so that commissioners of titles could be absorbed into the judicial framework and called judges. Because of continuous high court petitions coming up in the land court it was recommended that an additional land court judges/commissioners of title be appointed to deal exclusively with applications under the land registry act.

A recommendation on the strengthening and better management of the Deeds Registry was not expanded on.

The GBA noted that there was no juvenile court system and it was necessary in relation to the wider social context. Trotman noted that at present juvenile cases were lumped together in open court with adults and very often they were imprisoned mistakenly and absorbed with all sorts of characters with very deleterious results. The GBA recommended that research be carried out by examining various models and a system of juvenile court be introduced in Guyana.

On tour: Chief Justice Carl Singh and Baroness Patricia

Scotland during her visit to the Georgetown Magistrates'

Court yesterday. The Baroness met acting Chief Magistrate,

Juliet Holder-Allen, and other members of the legal community.

(Photo by Clairmonte Marcus)

Trotman noted that the increase in criminal cases in the magistrates' courts were horrendous. He noted that of the 66,000 cases filed in 1996, only 40,000 were completed. In 1998 some 70,900 cases were filed and only 35,000, completed, then in 1999 some 37,000 were filed and only 33,000 completed.

To deal with this issue, he said it was recommended that indictable matters taken summarily be made available expeditiously; that they cease to be handwritten so they could be more legible and that preliminary inquiries be more speedily activated. The committee suggested that the local judiciary look at other systems, particularly that of the UK.


The committee noted too that the use of technology in the magistrates' court was non-existent and quoted Chancellor Desiree Bernard as saying: "It is nothing short of disgraceful that magistrates in this day and age, let alone judges, have to be using pen and ink and trying to decipher their own handwriting and having note books lost and stolen from time to time."

The committee also felt that a night court should be established so that legal practitioners, including those working in government services, could work at night.

In the wider context of improving law revision, law reform and law reporting, the committee felt that a standing law reform commission should be established. This commission would comprise persons drawn from sitting and retired judges, university faculties, practising lawyers, political and parliamentary representatives and other individuals whose thinking reflect the aspirations of civil society.

The GBA also felt that the tenure security of office, qualifications and removal of judges should be looked at in relation to the constitution and that all persons exercising traditional functions be described collectively as judges, enjoy the same status, tenure, security of office, appointments and removability. This, Trotman said, was intended to enhance the respectability of persons performing such functions. It was felt that district courts could be introduced to replace magistrate's court so that district jurisdiction could deal with matters of fundamental rights. This would relieve the high court of much of its caseload litigation and make them more financially and geographically accessible. It will also provide persons adjudicating in the lower court with training and experience, which they can only now have in the high court.

On the issue of alternative disputes resolution (ADR) within the context of keeping costs down and minimising delay and complexities particularly in the civil justice system, Trotman said it was felt that there was a reluctance among the legal profession to introduce ADR, as this would adversely affect the profitability of practice.