AG quashes arguments against nominee for Chancellor of the Judiciary

DPI, Guyana, Tuesday, January 9, 2018

The arguments put forward to discredit the possible appointment of Belize’s Chief Justice, Kenneth Benjamin as Guyana’s Chancellor of the Judiciary were shut down on Monday by Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Senior Counsel (SC), Basil Williams.

Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Senior Counsel (SC) Basil Williams.

Minister Williams, responding to a question posed by the media challenging Justice Benjamin’s credibility for the post, on the grounds that he was chastised in Belize for a backlog in judgments for cases he heard, said that “If anyone of you is without sin, let him cast the first stone”.

Pursuant to Article 127 (1) of the Constitution, President David Granger on January 3, 2018, met with Opposition Leader, Bharrat Jagdeo to discuss the appointments of a substantive Chancellor of the Judiciary and Chief Justice.

Following the meeting, the Opposition Leader was granted one month to conduct due diligence on the nominees, which included Justice Benjamin for the substantive post of Chancellor of the Judiciary.

The 63-year-old Guyanese is currently serving as Chief Justice of Belize, following his appointment to head Belize’s judiciary in 2011. Justice Benjamin has been practising law for 39 years.

Justice Benjamin began practising private law in Guyana in October 1977 after obtaining his Certificate of Legal Education from the Hugh Wooding Law School that same year.

He served an Associate Solicitor with Clarke and Martin Legal Practitioners until October 1980 before moving on to be a Private Legal Practitioner that same year and worked out of the First Federation Building until May 1988.

Justice Benjamin would then serve the government of Guyana as a Stipendiary Magistrate in the Georgetown Magistrate District from 1981-1982. During this time, he appeared as Junior Counsel in arbitration proceedings between the Government of Guyana vs Pemar. He then served as an Assistant Judge Advocate with the Guyana Defence Force from 1986-1988.

The Legal Affairs Minister said Justice Benjamin was selected by a committee and discounted the notion that he may be unsuitable because of the delayed judgements.

He further stated that “There is no jurisdiction, certainly not Guyana that is not beset by these issues of a backlog of cases”.

On this point, the AG noted that this Administration had to pass legislation to delineate the time in which judges should render their judgements. According to the Attorney General, the last count revealed a backlog of over 10,000 cases.

Asked what he would recommend to reduce the backlog of cases, Minister Williams suggested retaining foreign lawyers. “I believe measures such as having transparent processes like the digital verbatim recording system in courtrooms will speed up trials and hearings and give you accurate records,” he noted.

The Minister said Government is inclined to ensure that there is access to justice and that there is speedy justice and will endeavour to ensure this is achieved.

 

By: Stacy Carmichael

 

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