CHIEF Justice Brian Moree. Photo: Austin Fernander
By EARYEL BOWLEG
Tribune Staff Reporter
CHIEF Justice Sir Brian Moree says he’s disappointed the “critical” Court Services Bill has not yet passed in the House of Assembly.
He told The Tribune he’s aware the Davis administration supports the proposed bill in principle but they have a very “busy legislative agenda and they haven’t yet gotten to it”.
However, he is of the view the bill should be “high priority” in the government’s considerations.
In January, Attorney General Ryan Pinder said the government was reviewing several key pieces of legislation, including the Court Services Bill, which it hopes to pass in Parliament to improve the nation’s judicial system.
The Chief Justice said he has stated publicly that he regarded the Bill as a “critical and transformative piece of legislation” and explained its necessity.
The Bill, if passed, is expected to allow the judiciary the ability to make its own decisions regarding how it spends its money among other things.
“In my view, it is absolutely necessary for this bill to be passed if we are going to fully accomplish our objectives within the judiciary,” Sir Brian said.
“The judiciary is not a government department. It is not a ministry of the government. It is not an agency of the government. Constitutionally, the judiciary is a co-equal, independent branch of government. There are only three branches of government under the Constitution - one is the executive, one is the legislative, one is the judiciary. And the independence of the judiciary is critical to the rule of law and for the preservation of democracy.”
He added: “Now when we talk about the independence of the judiciary, there are many aspects of that. There is what’s called decision making independence of the judicial officers. Well, that means that no one is interfering with their decision making process and with their decisions and their discretion. That’s one aspect of judicial independence, which is important.
“Another aspect of judicial independence it’s called institutional independence and this is where the judiciary has some level of autonomy over its financial, administrative, and operational aspect so that the judiciary can be ran in a way where they do not have to go cap and hand to the executive or their own decisions with regard to spending money on certain matters which are deemed to be important for the judiciary can be vetoed. This is a very important aspect of judicial independence and the court services bill is specifically intended to address that.”
He acknowledged there will always be limitations and explained the judiciary will always have to be allocated its budget in the national budget through the Minister of Finance and “that’s perfectly accepted.”
“What we have been saying is that once the budget is allocated and it’s approved the judiciary then should have a large level of autonomy as to how it is going to spend those funds because it is the judiciary itself, which knows what is required. So, the Court Services Bill in my view is extremely important. I am disappointed that it was not passed in 2021 and I am disappointed that it hasn’t yet passed in 2022.
“I have been in discussions with the Attorney General about the Bill. I was in discussions with the previous government who I think supported it in principle because the Bill was actually tabled in Parliament prior to the election. I’m told that the current government supports the Bill in principle but they have a very busy legislative agenda and they haven’t yet gotten to it. I would say that I think that it is high priority piece of legislation. I think that it’s exceedingly important for the reform and modernisation of our courts and it is my sincere hope that this Bill will be passed shortly.”
Meanwhile, Sir Brian gave an update on plans for a new Supreme Court complex.
“Clearly, our plan for a new Supreme Court complex was severely compromised by the pandemic and the financial crisis that came in wake of the pandemic and that’s understandable. Every country in the world had to adjust its financial commitment and many, many projects, which were on the boards so to speak, had to be either suspended or were postponed and some of them were even cancelled,” he told The Tribune.
“So, our plan to start the construction on the new Supreme Court complex was jeopardised by the pandemic and that’s understandable. It is a big project and it requires creative funding. So, we haven’t been able to take that project as far as I had hoped before Dorian and before the pandemic. Nevertheless, it remains an absolute priority for us in the judiciary. We know that financially one has to be realistic about this.
“I have discussed this with the Prime Minister and with the Attorney General and in principle again I think they want for us to start to look at it again obviously when we come out of the pandemic and things begin to stabilise and the financial condition of the country has improved. As soon as it becomes financially viable to do so, I think you’ll find we’ll go back to the plan to build a Supreme Court complex because that’s the ultimate solution and I’m sure that’ll be something which the new Chief Justice, my successor, will be looking at.”