Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Acting Chancellor clears the air on backlog cases

Guyana Chronicle. Letters Page for Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Acting Chancellor clears the air on backlog cases
THE Acting Chancellor of the Judiciary is advised from a media report that Ms Sita Ramlal, Registrar of the Supreme Court, has written to Dr Luncheon, Head of the Presidential Secretariat, representing that a programme aimed at reducing the backlog of cases in the High Court and funded by the government was lopsidedly executed.

The Acting Chancellor notes that the Registrar made the following observations:

* The project envisaged an equitable distribution of cases to all judges.

* Cases to be assigned were to be those that were ripe for hearing and did not include abandoned or deserted matters.

* That the Acting Chancellor dealt with matters that were abandoned, settled matters and matters that were withdrawn.

* That the Acting Chancellor came down to the High Court and took over the Chief Justice’s Court and worked to discharge hundred of cases, after Justice Chang was sworn to perform the functions of the Chief Justice, and that this was in an endeavour to clear advance payments for work not yet completed.

* That the Acting Chancellor flouted an Order of Justice William Ramlal that he could not perform the functions of Chief Justice and Acting Chancellor at the same time.

In response, the Acting Chancellor wishes that it be known, that as a result of his expressed concern for the increasing backlog in the High Court, the government agreed to pay to judges $15,000 for every case completed from the backlog. There were no qualifications imposed upon this agreement. This was the agreement communicated to me by Dr Luncheon. The Registrar was not privy to these discussions. The conditions which the Registrar seeks to suggest as governing the exercise, are conditions invented by her to meet the tenor of her letter to Dr Luncheon.

The Acting Chancellor at the commencement of the exercise convened a meeting of all the judges of the High Court and communicated to them Government’s undertaking to pay for every case in the backlog that was completed. The Acting Chancellor indicated that there was no compulsion for any judge to participate in the exercise and cases would be assigned on the request of a judge. The Registrar’s assertion that there was to be equitable distribution of cases is pure hogwash. Such an agreement would have carried with it an element of compulsion, which the exercise did not have. The exercise was carried out sporadically between 2005-2007. It was agreed between the Acting Chancellor and the judges at their meeting (at which the Registrar was not present, she not being a judge) that the approach to the exercise would be to weed out the abandoned, deserted and simple matters before moving on to the more substantial cases. Apart from the efforts of the Acting Chancellor, only Mr. Justice William Ramlal, showed interest in and had a significant input in the exercise. The Acting Chancellor finds it more than passing strange, that the Registrar has made no comment on the income derived by Justice Ramlal from his commendable interest and contribution to the exercise

The Acting Chancellor categorically rejects as being a disgusting untruth, the Registrar’s assertion that after the appointment of Justice Chang, he came back to the High Court and discharged hundreds of cases. The Acting Chancellor completed all matters for which notices had been served on the parties before the court, before he left his chambers in the High Court but once having moved chambers, he never returned to discharge hundreds of cases. As to the Registrar’s assertion that the Acting Chancellor flouted the law, His Honour has no recollection of ever having been served with a copy of the order of Justice Ramlal which would have disclosed to him the terms of the said order and became aware of the judge’s decision only from media reports. Several weeks after moving chambers, His Honour did see a handwritten draft of what appears to be an order of court. This document carried corrections in a handwriting style which was clearly not that of the author. Both handwriting styles would be familiar to judges and clerks of the High Court.

As a result of enquiries and from the information provided the Acting Chancellor had been aware that in at least one instance the Registrar over a period of a few months approved a payment to herself of over half a million dollars, as a related disbursement of the backlog exercise. The Acting Chancellor is unaware of any reason justifying the Registrar’s entitlement to such sum.

Two years after the exercise came to an end and consequent upon the termination of appointment as Accounting Officer of the Supreme Court, the Registrar now sees it fit to write to the Head of the Presidential Secretariat about the backlog exercise. The Acting Chancellor wishes that it be known that for the years 2005, 2006, 2007 every payment made to him was approved by the Registrar, after submission of the completed list of cases. All payments were made to him over those years without query or objection from the Registrar. It is also to be noted that in the Annual Reports of the Supreme Court for the years 2005, 2006 and 2007 which are prepared and signed by the Registrar no complaint, query or adverse comment was made about the backlog reduction exercise in any of the reports for those years.

The Acting Chancellor is both pained and disgusted at the nasty, scurrilous and baseless attempt by the Registrar to sensationalise a non-issue and would not be surprised if there are further attempts in a vain endeavour to provide company for the Registrar in the disgusting mess in which she is presently mired. The Acting Chancellor is prepared to deal appropriately with all such attempts.

The Acting Chancellor is of the view that the Registrar is or might be aware that he has come into possession of documentary evidence, which is to be referred to the appropriate authorities for investigation and action. These documents relate to:

* Several payments for alleged expenditure relating to what has been described as a “Bench and Bar meeting”. There never was any such meetings.

* Payment for the alleged supply of food to the Supreme Court at $2,500 per plate.

* Payment for the alleged sewing and supply of curtains to the judge’s quarters and courts in Berbice.

* Printing of forms and documents in use by the Court in a little room created above the Registrar’s office which payments were made for the alleged supply of these documents from external contractors.

* The award of maintenance/building contracts worth several hundred thousand dollars repeatedly to the same contractor within a short period of time.

* Payment for the alleged provision of supplies that is paper towel, milk, coffee, Cockburn port, peanuts, wine, Fruta drinks, Coke, Pepsi, etc, for the opening of the Criminal sessions in Berbice and Essequibo when such supplied were not received.

* Payment of sums totalling $3.4 million and $4.1 million on Christmas staff parties for the Supreme Court for two consecutive years.

These are just a few examples of a host of other transactions.

In the light of this information it came as no surprise to the Acting Chancellor, that the Registrar by memorandum dated… wrote to Mr. Nelson Rampersaud (PAS Finance) Accountant, inter alia in the following terms”

“…there is no statutory or other requirements for accounting record to be sent to the Chancellor (ag). Whatever you are doing in this respect is without my consent and approval. You are to desist from this exercise. Any such request is to be made to me. The auditing of expenditure is for the Auditor General and not the Chancellor (ag)”.

The Acting Chancellor sees the Registrar’s letter to the Head of the Presidential Secretariat as nothing more than an attempt to intimidate him. The Registrar’s letter to Dr Luncheon contains a number of inaccuracies and falsehoods. It contains language that is defamatory of the Acting Chancellor who over the next few days will be pursuing the legal options available to him.

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