Tony Vieira's Comments
22 October 2017

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The Rule of Law
(Aired 5 May 2003)

   For almost two years I have told you that as it exists on behalf of the people of this country there is no rule of law. Daevon on the West Bank can build an illegal structure encumbering the rights and privileges of the people around him with impunity, minibuses can drive at any speed with impunity, they can kill as many of our citizens and no one can stop them, they do not dim their lights and no one can stop them, the criminals can attack us at any time and the police are incapable of protecting us they are even incapable of taking simple finger prints or processing a crime scene in any significant manner.    

    Anyone, including the President of this nation, who does not understand that unless we establish the rule of law to dispense justice to all of our citizens equally, we will only be wasting time shooting criminals who will, in short order, be replaced by other criminals and this will continue until the rule of law stands supreme.

   I almost threw up when I saw our Chief Justice in the news papers telling the British public that crime in Guyana has altered fundamentally in the last twelve months and that the crime situation coupled with the shortage of piscine judges occasioned by the absence of the Judicial Service Commission is what is contributing to our situation. He does not tell them one word about the deprivation of funds this government perpetrates on the judicial system, to render it impotent. We can give Carl Singh 20 Judges and nothing will change, we will still have a judicial system which is completely under political control.

   Why must some thief in this country be locked up for stealing 25,000 dollars when a Minister or a Permanent Secretary can steal millions with impunity.  

    How important is this rule of law to our lives? Well let me quote tonight from a statement made by Paddy Ashdown, the British politician Tapped to head Bosnia's peacekeeping operation in the 1990's in an interview with Reuters and I quote him "we made a big mistake here [in Bosnia] and we made a big mistake in Kosovo....and that was not to realise that the rule of law comes first, we thought that democracy came first, we gave this country [Bosnia] as many elections as they could hold,.. and thought that we were making progress, but you can't have an operating democracy if there is no rule of law, you can't have a decent economy, decent politics etc. without it"

     If the rule of law jumped up and bit our Chief Justice on his nose he would not recognise it. This Chief Justice has over 50 constitutional matters before the courts unheard, for upwards of four years, simply because constitutional matters mainly concern transgressions by the state on some poor individual.    

     Why doesn't he tell the President to appoint Bovell Drakes? Instead of bitching about the Judicial Service Commission not being in place? why does he not demand all political control of the judicial system cease forthwith? Why does he not demand that the local lawyers to do their jobs on behalf of our citizens?

   We keep cussing up the Judges and the judicial system with justification, but we still keep paying some very fancy fees to lawyers who request numerous delays from Judges for time to prepare their cases, those of you who have had litigation, and have seen our courts in operation first hand, will know exactly what I mean.

   You have a lawyer and the other party against whom you are aggrieved have lawyers, your case can't be heard because of some evidence which is lacking in your matter or, more often, because someone did not turn up, so the hearing for that day actually takes up about 5 minutes, but the conference between the Judge, your lawyer and the opposing lawyer takes 25 minutes, looking up their several diaries to decide which day will be free for them to come back to court and go through this obnoxious ritual of seeing when it is feasible for them all to meet again, this can go on for upwards of 7 years.

   The two British Judges Baker and Lewis who came here at our invitation courtesy of the British High Commission to tell us what is wrong, told us over 3 years ago that they were astonished at the facility with which our Judges allow our lawyers to take our money and turn up in court for the sole purpose of asking for delays, this is especially true for the side which does not have a strong case and which wants to delay and frustrate the process of justice until everyone gets fed up of paying these huge legal fees and go home with cutlasses and guns to settle the matter. Over 80% of our jails are occupied by the small law breaker with jail terms under 6 months and the rest are there awaiting trial.

   We take a person guilty of thieving a foul and lock him up for 6 months, of course he was in jail for one year waiting for a trial, when this person re-enters the common population, he has been to criminal school for one and a half years learning how to thief a cow without getting caught.

    No ladies and gentlemen we are getting what we deserve, because, in the final analysis, it was we the Guyanese people who stood up here over the past 40 years and looked on whilst the executive destroyed the judicial system, we opted to leave rather than to stand and fight for our rights. So in the end it is we the citizens of Guyana, those here now and those who have fled, that are responsible.

    I dislike letters from Guyanese abroad sitting in the safety of countries where they are protected by the rule of law, telling us what we have to do, I have little doubt that they love this country, as all people throughout history have loved their motherland, but when they were here, they had the right and the duty to stand and demand good governance and they did not. We, you and I, are left here and it is up to us to demand it.  

    The Judicial Service Commission must fill the 4 piscine judge vacancies but Bovell Drakes must be appointed, and all new judges must be totally apolitical and dispense justice without fear or favour. The Chief Justice must demand that all political interference in the judicial system stop, now, immediately, he must put in put in place a disciplinary body, as recommended by Baker and Lewis, where supreme court Judges can have the expressed power to report misconduct or gross incompetence by a lawyer such as I have described for you here, in fact numerous recommendations to speed up and to establish the rule of law put forward by our Bar Association and supported by Baker and Lewis have not been implemented. The Supreme Court must be just that, it must be supreme.  

    Ladies and gentlemen my father's brother Justice Frank Vieira understood it and refused to be consumed by political forces, the only time the PPP won a case during the entire Burnham era they did so before Frank Vieira, Burnham was fit to be tied but Frank Vieira refused to be controlled and dispensed justice fearlessly. I did not understand it at the time being in my twenties but I do now.

   So I am asking our present judges to be true to your mandate to dispense justice fearlessly. We, the people, will protect you, we will see to that through the media and so will the Judicial Service Commission which is now empowered to do so, this mechanism was not there before the constitutional reform process but it is there now, to protect you.

   Integrity and the application of the rule of law are the hallmarks of any democratic system, without it there is no democracy, so do not prostitute your integrity and the mandate you have been given by being puppets of the executive.