I will stay away from the continuing controversies between the current and past Attorneys-General. To coin a phrase, when elephants rumble, it’s the insects in the grass who get trampled. I will likewise stay away from the merits or otherwise of the Chief Justice’s decision ordering the Minster of Legal Affairs to bring the Act into force. It is likely to be appealed and the Court of Appeal will decide. But why is the Judicial Review Act important to the public?
There is an area of law called ‘public law.’ While much law notionally exists for the protection of the public, ‘public law’ more directly protects the rights of the citizen in his or her relations with the state and public bodies or authorities by holding them to account. The instruments used by the courts in public law are of ancient origin, initially directed against the King, and are called writs of certiorari – to quash a decision, mandamus – to order something to be done, prohibition – to prohibit an act and the lesser known, quo warranto – challenging the right to hold an office. The writ of habeas corpus – ordering the production of a body, is linked to these. They are called ‘prerogative’ remedies issued by courts on the application of citizens for ‘judicial review’ to enforce their rights against the state or public authorities. Currently, these are the only remedies available in public law.
‘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 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.
On December 29 the Attorney General’s Chambers issued a statement asserting that the lease that had been granted to the Cheddi Jagan Research Centre (CJRC) in connection with the property in Kingston, Georgetown, known as ‘Red House,’ was invalid. Extensive reasons were given as the basis for that conclusion. On the following day a statement by Mr. Anil Nandlall, a prominent and well-respected lawyer and former Attorney General, was published. It was an equally extensive statement with a detailed legal analysis challenging the conclusions of the statement of the Attorney General’s Chambers.
In the meantime, on the evening of December 29, a statement from the Ministry of the Presidency informed the public that the President had revoked the lease on the basis of the advice given by the Attorney General’s Chambers and had given the CJRC 48 hours to vacate the premises. The CJRC had occupied the premises for about fifteen years and had accumulated a vast amount of material. Even trespassers are given longer periods to vacate premises by courts. In law, the period given must be reasonable. 48 hours could not be reasonable under any circumstances.