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Lawyers’ Chief: We’Re Under Attack

By AVA TURNQUEST

Tribune Chief Reporter

aturnquest@tribunemedia.net

INCENSED over protracted delay in the appointment of a substantive chief justice, the Bahamas Bar Association yesterday suggested the constant undermining of democracy has pushed the country to an existential and constitutional crisis.

In an article titled “Our Judiciary Must Be Unfettered,” BBA President Khalil Parker details a longstanding “insidious process” underpinned by sweeping abuses of power by the government, a sleeping legislature, and what he defined as “slow and steady” attempts to create a compromised and impotent judiciary.

Mr Parker characterised the delay as an assault on the rule of law that threatens to corrode the entire system of government, and called for those “charged with civic responsibility” to stand up for the preservation of rights and freedoms enshrined in the country’s Constitution.

“Delay in the appointment of the chief justice is corrosive of one branch and possibly the whole system of Government,” Mr Parker wrote.

“After every general election, we set about the business of ensuring the appointment of a prime minister with alacrity. We also set about appointing a Speaker of the House of Assembly with all convenient speed and no less enthusiasm. Are we to be content to await executive pleasure regarding the appointment of the head of our judiciary?

“While not the first affront suffered by the judiciary in our country as a result of what many regard as executive overreach, it constitutes the high-water mark in the gradual undermining of the third, and for the average citizen, resident, or visitor, the most fundamental branch of our government. Without a fearless, independent, and impartial judiciary, the “lock box” which contains our constitutional, statutory, and human rights is left unguarded.”

Stephen Isaacs was sworn in as acting chief justice last December.

In his article, Mr Parker acknowledged the prime minister has constitutional discretion on the appointment, but noted the discretion is not unfettered. He noted “practical and political expedience” did not give a blanket approval for a drawn out and potentially harmful delay.

This is the second public statement released by the legal body on this issue, and follows a small protest planned by a senior magistrate last month.

Senior Magistrate Derence Rolle Davis had urged his colleagues to meet at the Supreme Court, abandoning their schedules for the day to show solidarity against the “ongoing disregard for justice, fairness and integrity.”

Magistrate Rolle-Davis was joined by a handful of attorneys as well as another magistrate in protest.

Mr Parker stressed a constitutional democracy was not an esoteric or abstract concept, yet Bahamians are again confronting a tragic constitutional narrative of “three broken constitutional branches of government.” He underscored the need for constant vigilance against the “lowering of the image and importance of the judiciary in the eyes of the public which it serves.”

“Over the years the undermining of our democracy has been an insidious process,” the article read.

“It involved, at the very least, a three-pronged approach: a) callous and sweeping abuses of power by the executive against which we have continuously railed as a people; b) a legislature asleep at the wheel while democratic institutions and statutory bulwarks against abuses of power crumble; and c) slow and steady attempts to create a tame, compromised, and impotent judiciary.”

Critics say so long as an acting chief justice exists without a substantive officeholder, it raises questions about the independence and impartiality of the judiciary.

It can create the appearance that eligible candidates have to audition for the top role.

Last year, the president of the Caribbean Court of Justice, Sir Dennis Byron, criticised Guyana’s history of filling top positions in the judiciary with people in “acting” roles, arguing such circumstances are beyond “what ought to be acceptable in a modern democracy where respect for the rule of law is maintained.”

Mr Parker’s article continued: “The inexplicable and indeterminate delay in the appointment of the chief justice can be seen as having placed the country in an existential and constitutional crisis.

“The preservation of our collective rights and freedoms is guaranteed only by an abiding respect for the rule of law. This unprecedented and calculated assault on the rule of law renders such guarantees moot.”

Comments

joeblow 5 months, 3 weeks ago

Far more important to address the unscrupulous acts of lawyers. It is almost impossible to think of two who are morally or ethically above reproach !

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TheMadHatter 5 months, 3 weeks ago

The article says ... "Magistrate Rolle-Davis was joined by a handful of attorneys as well as another magistrate in protest."

As always, Bahamians never stick together. A handful of attorneys and ONE other magistrate. Sounds like the shackles have already been put on.

Where is the Caribbean on this? Why don't all the other Caribbean countries ban their airlines from flying here and their citizens from visiting here? I suppose because all of them have stronger dictatorships than we do.

Where is the US on this? Oh yeah, i remember, all they care about is whether the Preaident slept with an adult film actress 12 years ago. Very important stuff like that LOL.

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Porcupine 5 months, 3 weeks ago

The undermining of democracy is happening everywhere. Politicians are owned. We can either become totally cynical and do nothing, or we can do more. Political corruption in a democracy should be punishable by death. We are quick to call for the quick execution of someone who kills an innocent child. But a politician who has robbed for themselves and created misery by negligence to those he was elected by, should also be hung from the highest tree. Only then might we begin to see this deficit of leadership come to an end.

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Economist 5 months, 3 weeks ago

Good job Mr. Parker, keep the pressure on.

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ThisIsOurs 5 months, 3 weeks ago

Just wait, none's been appointed because they setting the stage for the "plant".im going to bet they all will be incensed at the insertion of a political hack into that post, by all rights it should go to Justice Isaacs.(in my opinion).

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Economist 5 months, 3 weeks ago

I agree, Justice Isaacs has always been a very level headed judge.

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licks2 5 months, 3 weeks ago

Acting appointments are old as ya daddy them. . .that person pushing this knows that's how it is done. . .ya act for one year then if ya any good at that job. . .you are automatically confirmed to that position. . . unless there are questions about your work!

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tetelestai 5 months, 3 weeks ago

licks2, what you have asserted is not true at all. Firstly, you don't "act for one year". Some civil servants have served in an "acting" capacity for years. Secondly, one is not "automatically confirmed to that position" if "ya any good at that job" (sic). There is no provision anywhere in General Orders that states this. The acting capacity is used by politicians either to engender loyalty to the government of the day, or to cause the employee to "sing for his supper" and, thereby do any and everything that the government of the day requests. You are right, however, that this nonsensical and, yes, insidious practice is as old as time. It has to stop. The government should appoint whomever is deemed the most qualified person for the job (I disagree that it is Justice Isaacs, but...).

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