‘Inappropriate recusals are potentially very damaging.’ This statement begins the concluding portion of an article by Professor Abimbola Olowofoyeku, Professor of Law, Brunel University, London, UK, entitled ‘Inappropriate Recusals’ in The Law Quarterly Review, April 2016.
The main basis for recusals by judges (or other adjudicators, including magistrates) is actual or potential bias or the appearance thereof. It is in the Judge’s discretion to do so. As far back as 1972 in the libel appeal of Jagan v Burnham in Guyana’s Court of Appeal, the then Chancellor of the Judiciary, E.V Luckhoo, rejected an application by Dr. Fenton Ramsahoye, appearing for Janet Jagan, to recuse himself on the ground that his brother, Lionel Luckhoo, was appearing for Burnham.
One of the reasons behind public executions in the past and at present was and is to demonstrate the power of the State so that citizens would be duly intimidated. Public executions have largely disappeared. The growth of democracy has forced the development of more sophisticated methods of state intimidation, even though the gory spectacle remains in a few countries with significant democratic deficits and is pursued b a few terrorist groups, particularly ISIS.
The State machinery, particularly its enforcement arms, are theoretically and practically the major instruments of State control and enforcement. A more insidious form of State intimidation and oppression is the use of the press. Guyana has experienced starting from the late 1960s, the use of the privately owned press to inflame passions against the PPP Government, to misreport the news, to distort the truth and to encourage violence. The privately owned press was one of the main instruments in the struggle against the PPP Government. I am not familiar with the history of the press before this period. But I am sure it did its utmost to support the colonial authorities to intimidate persons and organisations who resisted the powers of the State, in particular the organized and unorganized workers’ movements.
The State Asset Recovery Bill (“Bill”) was passed in the National Assembly on Friday last after a robust debate. It is a bold and vital instrument in the anti-corruption effort, although modern anti-corruption legislation still remains to be addressed. When I wrote in 2012 that the PPP Governments had made efforts to curb corruption, but that by then it had become pervasive and further steps needed to be taken, it was legislation such as this that I had in mind. One of the triggers for my article was the many inquiries made of me for at least two years before my term as Speaker ended in 2010 as to whether AML/CFT legislation was pending. I knew that there was a requirement from CFATF that such legislation be passed but it was only when sanctions were threatened after the 2011 elections that the legislation was finally tabled by the last Government.
Political considerations were mainly responsible for the then combined APNU and AFC Opposition to oppose the AML/CFT Bill, just as political considerations are now mainly responsible for the current Opposition opposing the Bill.
The Guyana Chronicle, which obtained Justice Franklin Holder’s letter to the Chancellor (ag), the Hon. Yonette Cummings-Edwards, complaining about the conduct of the Attorney-General and Minister of Legal Affairs, the Hon. Basil Williams, during the hearing of a matter in Court on March 23, tried its best to obfuscate. The letter has now been published and Justice Holder’s searing comments are in the public domain.
This less than professional reporting by the Guyana Chronicle was probably the reason why the Judge’s letter found its way to other sections of the media. The Judge described Mr. Williams’s conduct as ‘despicable’ and ‘contemptuous.’ The Judge said, quoting his letter from the Stabroek News: “I am not prepared to sit and hear Mr. Williams as an attorney-at-law in any matter whatsoever, unless he makes a genuine and meaningful apology to my satisfaction, in open court, both to me and to members of the Bar since they too were scandalized by his despicable conduct.” The Guyana Chronicle, which claimed to have had the Judge’s letter, reported none of this.
The judiciary is one of the three branches of Government. It is a vital component of our democratic system and for this reason needs to function with a high degree of proficiency. Even though most citizens go through their lives without having to invoke the assistance of the judiciary to protect or defend their rights against other citizens or the State, nevertheless the judiciary is a bulwark against the violation of those rights. Citizens need to be assured that there is a fair and impartial judiciary that can deliver justice in a timely manner in the even that they need to call on its protection.
In the business community, commercial disputes arise frequently, although, like the general population, most go through their business without ever having to revert to the judiciary to solve disputes. A judicial system that can rapidly resolve commercial disputes is necessary not only to keep business activity turning over but to sustain confidence in the business community, both local and foreign, to invest or continue to invest in Guyana.