Bar Association wants permanent court, end of assizes
President of the Guyana Bar Association Pauline Chase has called for an end to Assizes or periodic court sessions; she wants authorities to put in place a single permanent court.
The April 2022 Demerara Criminal Assizes opened on Tuesday with a customary parade after a two-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Assizes, in law, means a session or term and is historically done in England. This practice was also implemented in Guyana and Assizes are held in the counties of Demerara, Essequibo and Berbice in September, January and April.
“There is now a legal year [in England] and not quarterly as it still is here, in October, the law year is opened in England.
“Perhaps the time has come for us to consider such a course in the modern administration of justice in Guyana,” Chase said.
Chase explained that the movement of judges from one county to the next every four months with increased caseloads is disruptive and contrary to good administration.
“It places a heavy difficulty on our justices and the system,” Chase said.
The Demerara Criminal Assizes will hear trials for murder, sexual offences, treason and other serious offences.
The Bar Association is also hosting its inaugural Law Week which was officially launched along with the Demerara Criminal Assizes.
The parade started at the Brickdam Police Station and concluded at the High Court in Georgetown. Members of Guyana Police Force’s Tactical Services Unit, the Bar and other attorneys and Senior Counsel along with Attorney General Anil Nandlall, Chancellor of the Judiciary (ag) Justice Yonette Cummings-Edwards and Chief Justice (ag) Roxane George all participated in the parade.
Meanwhile, Chase also called on the relevant authorities to now officially appoint the Chancellor and Chief Justice who have been acting in the positions for several years.
She described the current acting positions as an “unworkable and failed formula” that affects the standing in the rule of law across the world and Guyana as a democratic society.
“It is, therefore, inimical to the rule of law that there are acting appointments of our highest judicial officers,” Chase stated.
Chase also used the opportunity to speak about the absence of a Judicial Service Commission (JSC).
“The effects of its absence go without saying.
“I wish to sound a warning that the situation grows more dire with each and every passing day,” Chase stated.
The JSC is responsible for judicial appointments; it is the Commission’s job to advise the Head of State on the appointment of Judges except for the Chancellor and Chief Justice.
The Commission has not been reconstituted since the life of the last body expired on September 30, 2017.
Meanwhile, delivering the feature remarks on Tuesday was Justice Cummings-Edwards, who spoke about the importance of the rule of law.
“It is a term that possesses considerable value and relevance,” Cummings-Edwards stated.
The rule of law has been gaining importance in modern Caribbean constitutional law and has been translated into a concrete justifiable rule, the Chancellor explained.
“The very many areas in which the rule of law will operate will include legality preventing the abuse of discretionary powers, judicial independence, disputes as to the legality of acts of government to be decided by the judges who are independent of the executive, issues of fairness as the law should be even-handed between government and citizens,” Cummings-Edwards said.
The Chancellor called for procedural fairness between civil and criminal matters and also urged equal accountability before the law.
She noted that the rule of law is very much alive and plays an integral part in jurisprudence, citizen’s life and the nation’s development.
Attorneys were also urged to collectively promote or advance the rule of law and the administration of justice.
“Let the rule of law be maintained and let the rule of law be upheld even in a pandemic, even though the heavens may hall, even though the entire world may be grinding to a halt, the rule of law must not be comprised, it must not fail,” Cummings-Edwards said.
The Chancellor also challenged the local Bar Association to consider additional roles and referenced recent events where the American Bar Association was called upon to provide an evaluation, professional competence and judicial temperament to the Supreme Court concerning Ketanji Brown-Jackson, a current nominee for the Supreme Court.