President and the judiciary

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MUCH has been said in the past weeks about government’s response to the Caribbean Court of Justice’s ruling, with some groups outside of the formal opposition, accusing President David Granger and his administration of showing disrespect to the court.

These views are often informed by either misunderstanding or plain distortion of the facts in order to achieve specific political ends. President Granger has not shied away from bringing clarity to his government’s position and its careful adherence to the orders of the court. This editorial will not repeat the various statements His Excellency has made on the current political situation, but to point out that since assuming office, efforts and recognition by the APNU+AFC Government to create the environment where an independent judiciary can function ought not only to be noted but applauded.

This country, over the past four years, has emerged from the shadows of an authoritarian, ‘narco’-criminalised state, into a respectable democracy that stands on the firm shoulders of the Constitution of the Republic, and guarantees the Rule-of-Law and the Separation of Powers, under which the Executive, the Judiciary and the Legislature enjoy full independence.

President David Granger is on record saying: “The judicature is fundamental to good governance because it protects the people’s rights and prevents the emergence of autocracy.” The judiciary is a branch of government, just as the legislature and executive. The checks and balances these branches place on each other; their true worth and importance to society and governance can only be felt when they are understanding of their role, and uncompromising in discharging it.

The executive has daily administrative responsibility for the State, guided by the rule of law, and the legislature’s role of oversight of and giving support to the executive through bills and other requirements, the role of the judiciary is to adjudicate the law and serve as the nation’s judicial compass.

As President Granger rightly pointed out back in 2017 at the installation ceremony for acting Chief Justice, Roxanne George-Wiltshire, SC, and Justice Dawn Gregory as Justice to the Appeal Court, the judicature was set up under the Guyana Constitution to be an independent branch, free of interference from the executive and legislative. Acceptance of this role will not only see the rightful securing of financial autonomy that came with the Fiscal Management and Accountability (Amendment) Act of 2015, but also moving to ensure daily management is free from the influences and subjugation of the other branches. This, too, was not lost sight of by the President, who noted that the judiciary has a vital role to play in maintaining its own independence.

It is not an unfair statement that the reputation of this branch had come in for questioning and ridicule under the former administration. Some factors giving rise to this were the prolonged acting appointments in the highest offices which lend to the impression such are deliberately done by the politicians to keep it under its thumb.

Under-staffing, huge backlog of cases, disappearance of case jackets, case deferrals, discontent with the jury system, poor storage and retrieval of records, have contributed to the disenchantment. Where there have been rulings that have caused society to think decisions were arrived at inconsistent with the rule-of-law, such also feed into negative perception.

Restoring credibility and the people’s confidence require doing the requisite work, which this government set out to do from the very early days of its stewardship. Where society sees this branch failing in the discharge of its duty it could create opportunities for the rise of might is right, vigilante justice, and rise of autocratic government.

Given all the efforts by this government thus far to empower the judiciary, there can be no reservation about the President Granger’s Government in ensuring this branch of government is restored to the pinnacle place in society. One of the things progressive societies rely on is an efficient and effective judiciary. And while no system is perfect what people desire is the system striving for perfection, instead of settling for or falling into mediocrity. The judiciary must go forward fearlessly discharging its constitutional function and zealously guarding its independence.

It could not be more concisely put than President Granger’s timely reminder that, “Judicial independence acts to prevent the derogation from the rule-of-law. Respect for the rule-of-law is the foundation of a law-based society, one which can be sustained only by an independent judiciary.”