EDITOR, The Tribune.
Your two stories quoting The Bahamas Bar Association’s President’s views on judicial appointments suggest that Mr Elsworth Johnson does not firstly understand the meaning of the term “transparency” and secondly, reveals that the Bar Association president believes that the post of director of public prosecutions should be reserved for Bahamians.
Every man is entitled to his own views but a man heading the Bar Association, in my view, has an obligation to be informed and to make his public utterances only after fully familiarising himself on a subject.
Mr Johnson is concerned that the former FNM government appears to him to have influenced the selection of members of the judiciary along political lines suggesting that the appointments of Justice Claire Hepburn and of Chief Justice Michael Barnett were politically influenced.
And he further claims that a Jamaican national was appointed to the post of Director of Public Prosecutions only after the former FNM prime minister objected to the appointment of a sitting Bahamian deputy director of public prosecutions to the post of Director. In this instance, he does not appear to have been concerned that the Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions whose appointment as Director he would have preferred to that of Mrs Vernell Allen was the widow of a former PLP Cabinet Minister.
Transparency when applied to governance means openness, clarity and good communication. It requires stating all of the facts regardless to whether or not the facts support one’s position.
Judicial appointments in The Bahamas are made by the Judicial and Legal Services Commission. The composition of the J&LSC is set out in the Constitution. If Mr Johnson’s concern is with the composition of the Commission he ought to have made his concerns known to the Constitutional Reform Commission and seek a consensus for the appropriate amendment to the Constitution. If such a recommendation was made to the Reform Commission it seems they did not advance it in their recommendations to the Government on Constitutional Reform.
The Bahamas is a Parliamentary Democracy in the Westminster tradition. This means that the constitutional provisions concerning the appointment of judicial officers are fairly similar in most Commonwealth countries.
If Mr Johnson had made inquiries, he would have learned that prior to the election of the FNM in 1992 the Director of Legal Affairs in the Office of the Attorney General was held by foreign nationals: English, Guyanese, and Barbadian.
The first Bahamian national appointed Director of Legal Affairs was Rhonda Bain, a Bahamian female attorney.
The post of Director of Public Prosecutions was created by an FNM Government and the first appointment to the post was of a Bahamian national, Bernard Turner.
Appointments to judicial posts in The Bahamas are made on the basis of qualification, experience and expertise, not political affiliation or nationality.
Because of the small population of our country, it is not surprising that appointments to Constitutional posts including those in the judiciary may, from time to time, include politically connected persons. The record of such persons in office should prove to Mr Johnson that none has ever been accused of political bias in any of their actions or decisions.
Indeed, one would expect that Mr Johnson must be aware of the long-standing tradition in The Bahamas where members of one political party typically seek legal representations in matters before the courts, from attorneys known to hold different political affiliation to their own.
If Mr Johnson’s inquiry took him further afield, he would have discovered that in recent times two former Government Ministers in Jamaican Governments, Hugh Small and Vivian Blake served with distinction on our High Court Bench. Indeed, Mr Blake served as Chief Justice of The Bahamas.
Mr Johnson should also be aware that Sir Garfield Barwick was appointed Chief Justice of Australia three days following his resignation from the posts of Attorney General and Minister of External Affairs in 1964.
Lord Hewart was appointed Chief Justice of England two days after resigning the post of Attorney General in 1992.
Sir David Simmons was appointed Chief Justice in Barbados in 2001 four months after he had resigned from the post of Attorney General.
The wife of former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, was appointed to the High Court Bench while her husband was in office.
In Jamaica, Leacroft Robinson a former Attorney General was appointed President of Jamaica’s Court of Appeal.
And he would have discovered that the appointments of Claire Hepburn, a former FNM Senator and Attorney General as a Justice, and the appointment of Michael Barnett, a former FNM candidate for election, FNM Senator and Attorney General followed a very transparent practice and tradition in our country. He would have learned from a very public and open record that:
• Burton Hall, the son of a PLP Senator, served as a Justice, President of the Court of Appeal and ultimately Chief Justice.
• Jeffrey Thompson, a former PLP Cabinet Minister, was appointed a Justice.
• Neville Adderley, a former PLP election candidate, was appointed a Justice.
• Cyril Fountain, a former FNM MP, was appointed a Justice.
• Jon Isaacs, the son of PLP Stalwarts, was appointed a Justice
• Anita Allen, the wife of a former FNM MP and Cabinet Minister, was appointed a Justice and subsequently appointed president of the Court of Appeal.
• Vera Watkins, the wife of a former FNM member of parliament, was appointed a Justice.
• Ruby Nottage, the wife of a former PLP Cabinet Minister, was appointed a Justice.
As a matter of interest, I note that Justices Burton Hall was appointed Chief Justice during an FNM Administration and that Jeffrey Thompson, Jon Isaacs, Neville Adderely and Ruby Nottage, all from known PLP families, were appointed to the High Court Bench during FNM Administrations. Does Mr Johnson also object to these appointments or is it only the appointment of FNM’s that raises an alarm?
It will be interesting to see whether the former Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions whose appointment Mr Johnson would have preferred to Mrs Vernell Allen is now appointed to the vacant post of Director of Public Prosecutions.
I and many Bahamians have no objection to the appointment of any person to positions of professional leadership in The Bahamian public sector so long as it is demonstrated that the person is the best candidate for the post he or she seeks to occupy. Mrs Vernell Allen proved to be an excellent Director of Public Prosecutions. She is to be congratulated for her success notwithstanding a sometimes hostile work environment.
August 25, 2014