Five months after a High Court Judge warned against delaying the appointment of a substantive Chancellor and Chief Justice, President Irfaan Ali has offered no clear indication when those appointments will be made.
Instead, at a press conference on Saturday, the President repeatedly dodged questions on the issue, saying that there are two persons acting in the positions.
“Our country is not without a Chief Justice or a Chancellor,” he told reporters.
A substantive Chancellor and Chief Justice have not been appointed in over two decades and the situation has even resulted in rebuke from the President of the Caribbean Court of Justice.
The current acting Chancellor, Yonette Cummings and acting Chief Justice Roxanne George, have been acting in those positions since 2017.
According to the Constitution, the Chancellor and Chief Justice shall be appointed by the President after obtaining the agreement of the Leader of the Opposition.
While the Opposition Leader has signalled his support for the confirmation of Justices Cummings and George to the two top judicial posts, the President has not budged on the issue, but sought to connect the recent appointment of the Judicial Service Commission to the top judicial appointments, although that is not covered in the Constitution.
“The Judicial Service Commission is in place. That Commission will now conduct its work independently, not only the issue of the Chancellor and Chief Justice but I know they are working on the judiciary in its macro form because there is a lot of vacancies and appointments that need to be made. Having said that, I have repeatedly said, the country is not without a Chancellor and Chief Justice. We have a Chancellor and Chief Justice, who are empowered to execute their duties to the fullness of the Constitution,” the President told reporters.
President Ali said he wants the work of the JSC to be “expanded” so that there can be a full and clear understanding of the issues and challenges confronting the Judiciary. He said he is more concerned about the effectiveness of the Judiciary.
“What I am concerned about is an effective Judiciary System; one that we can rely on, one that the international community could rely on, one that is efficient and is supported by the necessary technology and infrastructure that would make them efficient, one in which we have the full complement of judges and magistrates, and that is what the JSC is working,” he said.
In a ruling last April, Justice Damone Younge said while President Ali has not breached the Constitution with the delay in the appointments, the continuous delay has become “untenable” and “unacceptable.”
The High Court Judge said the President and Opposition Leader should immediately commence the process to bring the matter to an end, adding that the acting appointments in the two top Judicial posts have stained the country’s rich legal tapestry.
The Judge said the onus is on both the President and Leader of the Opposition to meet and try to bring the matter to an end.