By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Chief Reporter
JUSTICE Vera Watkins will serve as acting chief justice of the Supreme Court until a successor to the substantive post is named, according to Press Secretary Anthony Newbold, who said the prime minister will take his time in making the decision.
Chief Justice Stephen Isaacs died on Friday at the age of 63 years.
He was reportedly battling prostate cancer. He died two weeks after he was officially sworn in as chief justice, having been confirmed in the post in July.
Justice Isaacs’ confirmation had come after months of agitation from the legal fraternity, some of whom publicly castigated Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis for delaying to name a new chief justice.
“Justice Vera is acting,” Mr Newbold said yesterday, “she will continue to act for the foreseeable future until a decision is made about a substantive post.”
In 2015, Justice Isaacs was promoted to the rank of a senior justice of the Supreme Court, and appointed acting chief justice in December 2017. He was confirmed to the substantive post this past July, filling a vacancy left by the retirement of Sir Hartman Longley last year.
Justice Isaacs was recognised in a Cabinet statement on Friday as a “judge’s judge…the epitome of the highest standards of conduct of a judicial officer; and for upholding the Rule of Law, justice, order and proper decorum in his courtroom.”
Speaking to reporters following his appointment earlier this month, Justice Isaacs listed better efficiency, an improved judicial complex, and more effective manpower management among his goals for his tenure in this position.
He also expressed hopes of advocating for a better “case-to-judge ratio,” improving the country’s plea bargain system and introducing an overall shift in the judicial culture of the country.
“Having a purpose-built judicial complex is still in the works. It’s been in the works since I was registrar. And with any luck you may see it before I retire,” he said.
In February, an internal letter to members of the judiciary from senior Magistrate Derence Rolle-Davis characterised the failure to fully confirm the vacant post as a “blatant attack on the judiciary”.
Magistrate Rolle-Davis further called on fellow judges to “abandon” their schedules for a meeting of solidarity next Tuesday at the Supreme Court building, similar to action staged in Jamaica.
At the time, Maurice Glinton, QC, Alfred Sears, QC, and Wayne Munroe, QC, all told The Tribune Dr Minnis’ appointment of Justice Isaacs as acting chief justice should be remedied immediately.
In April, Bahamas Bar Association President Kahlil Parker told The Nassau Guardian that Dr Minnis had a “tremendous misapprehension” of the constitutional provisions relating to the appointment of a chief justice, adding the prime minister did not appear to grasp firmly the Constitution as a whole.
Yesterday, Mr Newbold said: “We will move no quicker than (Dr Minnis) thinks is necessary as long as the system continues to function the way it ought to. He’s going to take his time before he appoints another substantive chief justice.”