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.
Many may remember that the Judicial Service Commission (“JSC”) recommended the appointment of prominent lawyer Miles Fitzpatrick as an acting Judge in the early 1970s. Mr. Fitzpatrick then turned up at State House on the appointed day to be sworn in by the then President, His Excellency Arthur Chung. The President failed to appear, in his own house. The swearing-in was aborted and Mr. Fitzpatrick was never appointed. The Independence Constitution and its 1980 substitute provided that the President “may appoint” judges who were recommended by the JSC.
In 2001 the authority of the JSC was strengthened, and the discretion of the President was removed, by the substitution of “shall” for “may.” Article 128(1) now provides that Judges other than the Chancellor and Chief Justice are appointed by the President “who shall act in accordance with the advice of the Judicial Service Commission.” Article 128(2) now provides that “the President shall act in accordance with the advice of the Judicial Service Commission and appoint a person to act in the office of Justice of Appeal or Puisne Judge, as the case may be.” These amendments were based on the recommendations of the Constitution Reform Commission (“CRC”) in 2000.
The Advisory Committee, recently appointed by the President, has constitutional responsibility only in relation to persons who have been sentenced to death. But article 190 of the Constitution, which provides for its functions, omits to state what exactly in relation to the sentence of death the Advisory Council is to advise on, even though as a matter of practice it is known that the Advisory Council advises on the commuting of death sentences.
In article 188 the President is given extensive powers in relation to prisoners. After consultation with the Minister, the President may grant to any convicted prisoner a free or conditional pardon, an indefinite respite or for a prescribed period, a less severe form of punishment or a remission of the whole or part of a punishment.