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6th Commonwealth Law Conference Rule of Law Award 2023 Winner

This prestigious award recognises the outstanding contribution of an individual or organisation to furthering the rule of law, and the CLA and LexisNexis honour Ms Melinda Janki for her sustained and resolute efforts to promote the rule of law within her home jurisdiction of Guyana and on the international stage.

Melinda Janki is an international lawyer of over 30 years standing. She holds an LL.B from University College, London and two master’s degrees in law – the BCL from Hertford College, Oxford University and an LL.M in public international law from University College, London.

Melinda’s human rights work includes advising the West Papuan peoples on their right to self-determination under international law, defending the rights of the LGBTIQ community and opposing the death penalty.

Melinda was nominated for her outstanding work in Guyana to confront the greatest threat to the rule of law internationally, i.e. human-made climate breakdown that is already causing such devastation in Commonwealth countries.

Melinda was one of more than 250 legal professionals to sign an open letter in September which warned that: “We, the undersigned members of the legal profession, support the contents of this letter in the light of substantial evidence that breaching the 1.5˚C temperature goal established by the Paris Agreement on Climate Change risks mass loss of life and threatens the conditions for a stable civilisation, including the rule of law”.

Melinda’s legal work, challenging ExxonMobil’s proposals to exploit vast reserves of oil off the coast of Guyana which are inconsistent with that limit, put this statement into practice. ExxonMobil’s intention to produce over 11 billion barrels of oil would pollute the atmosphere and ocean with more than 4 billion tons of greenhouse gas.

Melinda has filed six cases on behalf of public interest litigants, representing a cross section of Guyana’s society including activists, retired professionals, a dean of the University of Guyana, a lecturer, a student, and indigenous Wapichan youth.

Melinda has already successfully reduced Esso’s environmental permits from more than 20 years to 5 years in line with national law. She also represents citizens challenging the entire oil and gas development as a violation of their constitutional right to a healthy environment. She drafted the Environmental Protection Act and was instrumental in getting the Constitution amended to include the right to a healthy environment, the very provisions that Guyana’s citizens are now using to defend themselves against a sector that threatens the rule of law. Melinda and her small team operate in challenging circumstances, holding powerful actors to account who are vastly better resourced.

We believe that Ms Janki’s commitment and courage to make a difference makes her a worthy recipient of this prestigious award.

Nigel Roberts, VP and Secretary, LexisNexis Rule of Law Foundation comments:

“First and foremost, let me offer my sincere congratulations on behalf of LexisNexis to the 2023 CLA LexisNexis Rule of Law Award honouree, Melinda Janki.

Advancing the Rule of Law is at the core of what we do at LexisNexis, and it was a privilege to partner with the CLA to establish this award in 2008. The Rule of Law is not just a ‘nice to have’, it is an absolute necessity for success. According to various sources, it is estimated that 5 billion people in the world today live outside the protection of the Rule of Law. We must all join together to help bring that number down. This is the only way we can improve the lives of individuals and make a real difference to people in parts of the world where fairness is not a given.

Melinda Janki is an inspiration to all lawyers. I congratulate her on this great achievement, and thank her for her commitment, passion, and courage to make a difference, advance the Rule of Law, and change the world for the better.”

The award ceremony will take place at the closing ceremony of the Commonwealth Law Conference 2023 in Goa on 9th March, and the trophy will be presented by the CLA President Peter Maynard KC and Nigel Roberts, VP Global Associations at LexisNexis.

We are delighted that Ms Melinda Janki will be added to the August roll call of previous winners who have worked courageously to champion and defend the rule of law.

Guest author The Platform Magazine