Judiciary’s workload ‘tremendous’ but time limit for decisions must be adhered to – Nandlall

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See below the full media release from Attorney General, Anil Nandlall: 

A news story of an exchange between the Hon. Roxane George SC, Chief Justice and I have created quite a stir, I am told. This consequence was the obvious intent of the author. He mischaracterized and sensationalised a civil exchange between the Judge and I in the course of the hearing of a case via Zoom at which several other lawyers were present. Inaccuracies aside, the author deliberately attempted to convey the impression of a very hostile engagement. To the contrary, the engagement was firm but respectful. Both sides expressed their different and disparate positions. 

I will endeavour to paraphrase hereunder what I consider to be the material parts of the exchange. 

At the commencement of the hearing, the Hon. Chief Justice spoke of her hectic day in the Court. Her Honour then proceeded to remark that the public and those who criticise the Judiciary for failing to render decisions on time are not aware of the magnitude of this workload. As I have done many times publicly, I empathised with the workload of the Judiciary but retorted that there is a law which requires Judges to deliver decisions within a stipulated time. What I heard next led me to conclude that the Chief Justice said as Attorney General I should have never passed the law. I pointed out that I was not the Attorney General who passed the law but I was in Parliament and supported its passage. I further posited that if the time frame is insufficient, perhaps consideration should be given to changing the law but there must be compliance with law. Further, I alluded to the twelve (12) impending additions to the High Court, predicting that this measure will bring valuable reprieve. The Chief Justice expressed words of welcome for this assistance. 

The public record will confirm my repeated calls for compliance with the Time Limit on Judicial Decisions Act 2009. No doubt the workload of the Judiciary is tremendous. A reality of which I am personally aware and have publicly acknowledged. It is as a direct recognition of this reality that the Government continues to resource the Judiciary in every way affordable. Twelve (12) Magistrates were appointed a few weeks ago. Twelve (12) High Court Judges will take the Oath of Office before the end of this month. Advertisements are out to fill several vacancies at the Guyana Court of Appeal. Six (6) Magistrates’ Courts are currently under construction. A new Court has been added to the Court of Appeal building. Judges now have the facilities of Judicial Assistants and are further assisted by an automatic audio recording system. I can go on but I think the point is made. 

However, the continuous non-compliance with the aforesaid Act is simply not justifiable. As Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs with responsibility for justice, for me, silence is not and has never been an option. Hence, my repeated public pronouncements on this matter. I cannot explain to members of the public how a crucial institution like the Judiciary, whose constitutional mandate in the main is to uphold the law and to hold every other agency and citizen legally accountable, violates its own law with apparent impunity. Accountability and transparency are demanded and exacted daily from those funded from the public purse. On what basis should the Judiciary be exempt from merely delivering their decisions within a timeframe prescribed by a law? These are questions that are extraordinarily difficult to explain to an enquiring public. 

The Act was intended to address an institutional problem of Judges failing to render decisions in a timely manner and worse yet, retiring from the Bench with dozens of decisions outstanding, causing those cases to be tried all over again; and this is after litigants have waited years for their trials in the first place. The result has been and still is expressed in the much cited aphorism “justice delayed is justice denied”. 

It is for these reasons that after public consultations during the 1999 – 2001 constitution reform process that an amendment was made to Article 197 (3) of the Constitution, where the words underlined below, were added. 

A Judge may be removed from of ice only for inability to perform the functions of his or her of ice (whether arising from infirmity of mind or body or any other cause) or for misbehaviour or for persistently not writing decisions or for continuously failing to give decisions and reasons therefor within such time as may be specified by Parliament and shall not be so removed except in accordance with the provisions of this article.” 

In short, it is the public that demanded this change as a remedy to the mischief identified above. The Parliament unanimously adopted it. The Act, which came nine years after the constitutional amendment was intended to enable it. So it was not a legislation conceived in abstract. It enjoys public consultative and constitutional underpinnings. At the time of its enactment, the Judiciary was duly consulted but expressed no objection. I was a backbencher in the National Assembly and I spoke at length and emphatically in support of it. I described it then as “revolutionary”. 15 years hence, my position has not waned. 

Section 4 of the Act mandates a High Court Judge to give decisions in a case no later than 120 days after the conclusion of the hearing. Section 5 of the Act compels the Court of Appeal and the Full Court to render their decisions not later than 30 days from the conclusion of the hearing. Section 6 of the Act states that “In accordance with Article 197 (3) of the Constitution a Judge may be removed from of ice for, among other reasons, persistently failing to give written or oral decisions and reasons for the decisions within the time specified in this Act.Section 7 of the Act obliges the Chancellor to cause the Registrar to notify the 

Judges who are in breach of these timeframes and to inform them of the provisions of Article 197. Section 8 of the Act allows for Judges to seek an extension of time to comply. Section 11 of the Act provides for the Chancellor to instruct the Registrar to submit to the Speaker of the National Assembly an annual report consisting of judges’ compliance with the provisions of the Act. 

Regrettably, none of the aforementioned provisions of this Act ever enjoyed compliance since its enactment. Only last week I did a one hour interview with a reporter in which I lauded the many advances that have been made in the Judiciary which have impacted positively in the efficient disposal of cases. News stories of this interview were carried in the press. I took the liberty of forwarding one to the Hon. Chief Justice. The truth is, every segment of our population can proffer what they consider justifiable reasons for not complying with the law. However, if it is not a reason provided for by the law, such non-compliance would be unlawful. The Judiciary would so pronounce, and rightfully so. 

Article 149D of our Constitution guarantees equality before the law and equal treatment by the law. That is all I ask. 

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