NEWS Room reported on October 28, 2020, as did other media houses in Guyana that President Irfaan Ali will appoint Attorney General (AG) and Minister of Legal Affairs, Mohabir Anil Nandlall and Chairman of A New and United Guyana (ANUG), Timothy Munro Jonas as Senior Counsel from October 30.
The Office of the President released a statement indicating that the decision was taken after consultation with the Chancellor of the Judiciary (ag), Yonette Cummings-Edwards.
The President acclaimed the merits of the attorneys for “their demonstrable knowledge of and learning in the law and on account of their exemplary erudition and diligence in the practice of law and by virtue of their distinguished contributions to the growth and development of Guyana’s jurisprudence and constitutional democracy.”
Under the previous government, a contention arose over the conferral of silk on several attorneys, with Timothy Jonas withdrawn from the list. Following certain remarks allegedly made by Mr. Jonas in a Demerara Waves report of January 23, 2019, headlined “Timothy Jonas wasn’t withdrawn from Senior Counsel list for political reasons,” then AG Basil Williams asserted that, even though Chancellor of the Judiciary had submitted Jonas’s name for conferral of the title of Senior Counsel, he did not qualify because of his limited years of experience, which he posited should be over 30 years in practice.
Demerara Waves had reported that Jonas was called and informed by the Ministry of the Presidency that he had been picked to become a Senior Counsel, but after news broke that he had been part of a steering committee of the then recently formed political party, ANUG, he was the following day informed that his name had been pulled off the list of Senior Counsel.
Current AG Nandlall, then in the opposition, averred that this decision was without merit, citing as example Attorney-at-Law Forbes Burnham who was Guyana’s first Executive President, and other prominent attorneys who had become Queen’s Counsel in less than 30 years; 12 years in the case of Burnham.
Nandlall clarified that the Attorney General merely serves as a conduit for the list to be presented to the President, whose role in the process is merely ceremonial. He emphasised: “The President is unfamiliar and is unaware of the attributes of the lawyer. The judges are regarded as the institution that is qualified to assess the performance of the lawyers. The Attorney-General is simply a conduit because judges ought not to have direct contact with the President, so that system insulates the system from political interference.”
Although the current government did confer silk on Mr Jonas, he expressed reservations about the process; but in a letter published in the Stabroek News of November 1, 2020, and headlined: “The conferral of silk on Mr Jonas,” Dr. Tara Singh of the Guyanese diaspora domiciled in New York, alluded to the previous incident, where Mr. Jonas had been denied silk, and to the case that Mr Jonas has brought before the High Court challenging the legality of appointment of four Senior Counsel by President David Granger on the grounds that such authority exists with the judiciary and not with the President.
Mr. Jonas contended that “… politicisation of the process and lack of transparency reduce public confidence, and cheapen the process itself.”
Dr. Singh avers that “The perception conveyed is that Mr Jonas is committed to legal procedures, non-politicisation, and transparency, and that the process was politicised and not transparent, despite the fact that his appointment was made in consultation with the Judiciary (and Mr Jonas himself says “the legal requirements identified by me had been met”) Mr Jonas was still sceptical and indicates that he will wait until a ruling is delivered in the case that is before the High Court. Was his action appropriate having been assured that the appointment has the imprimatur of the Judiciary?”
AG Nandall, in his Court submission, stated that (i) the President, as the Supreme Executive Authority of Guyana, is vested with the exclusive prerogative to confer Silk upon attorneys-at-law; (ii) the prerogative or power to confer Silk was never vested in the judiciary of Guyana; and (iii) the President’s prerogative to confer Silk does not infringe on judicial independence, nor is it unconstitutional in any other way.
The current government is determined to right all wrongs, and is taking pains to ensure that it does not breach constitutional requirements and guidelines, so it is of concern that, in doing so, it is taken to task on questionable grounds.