‘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.
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.
The PPP unanimously decided in about 1994/5 to propose to the Select Committee on Constitutional Reform established by the Sixth Parliament (1992-1997) that a president should serve only two terms. I led the delegation, which included former President Donald Ramotar, and presented the PPP’s position.
The PPP presented the same position to the Constitutional Reform Commission (1999-2000), which I chaired. Its delegation was led by former President Donald Ramotar, then General Secretary. The two-term presidential limit, supported by the PNCR, was adopted by the Constitution Reform Commission and formed part of its recommendations. Article 90(3) of the Constitution was duly amended by Act No. 17 of 2001, unanimously passed in the National Assembly, to limit the presidential terms to two.
The Chronicle’s obscene calumny against Chancellor of the Judiciary, Carl Singh, over several months and getting worse, its contempt of court and the Government’s intimidation of the Judiciary have become deeply troubling. The Chancellor was publicly warned to go on pre-retirement leave and not to hear any ‘political’ cases. Suspicion was expressed that he would start a case and postpone it beyond his retirement date so as to seek to extend his term of office.
What is worse is that a lawyer, Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo, who has responsibility for information and the power to stop the Chronicle since it started its disgraceful campaign several weeks ago, has allowed it to continue. The only conclusion is that the Chronicle’s rampage against the Chancellor, and subversion of the Judiciary, is official Government policy.