CJ issue among reasons govt ‘bleeding support’, Parker says
The failure of the prime minister to choose a substantive chief justice is among those issues causing the Minnis administration to lose support, Bar Association President Khalil Parker declared yesterday.
Senior Justice Stephen Isaacs has been serving as acting chief justice for four months now, and despite numerous calls from Parker, and other prominent players for a substantive appointment to be made, there is no indication that Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis has yet moved on the matter.
“The outstanding appointment of our substantive chief justice is a live issue, and we will continue to press it,” said Parker, while a guest on the Guardian Radio Sunday afternoon show “The Political Review” with Quincy Parker, his brother.
“You ask me what next? More of the same. More pressure. At the end of the day, this feeds into that narrative that Public Domain spoke to, in terms of the gradual bleeding of support.
“… If people see you not engaging on the real issues, then you can’t expect a better result than that. And so, at the end of the day, it is open to the government to solve this particular issue at any time. They can do it tomorrow.”
The governor general appoints the chief justice acting upon the advice of the prime minister in consultation with the leader of the opposition.
In other words, no such appointment is made until the prime minister selects someone for the post.
In making his statement yesterday, Parker was referring to a recent poll from the market and opinion research firm, Public Domain showing that the government has lost considerable support among the electorate.
The Nassau Guardian previously reported that Minnis reportedly asked Attorney General Carl Bethel to serve as chief justice. The Bar Association president thinks this would be a bad idea.
“I am viscerally opposed to such a move,” he stressed. “I have no qualms about suggesting that I have a visceral problem with an attorney general becoming a chief justice, jumping from Cabinet to the head of the judiciary. No. That’s not something that I would support.”
In 2009, Michael Barnett resigned as attorney general and minister of legal affairs and was sworn in as chief justice not long after.
Then Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham was criticized by some in and outside the legal fraternity over the decision.
Reports that the prime minister was eying Bethel for the post have already begun creating similar unease.
Parker said yesterday that Isaacs is eminently qualified to be confirmed in the position.
He said the lack of a substantive appointment is giving the impression that the bench is being trivialized.
“There is no legitimate reason for delay in the appointment of the substantive chief justice in this instance… The constitution, while it anticipates that there may be circumstances which warrant the acting appointment of a chief justice in the absence of a substantive holder, it contemplates a substantive chief justice at all material times,” said Parker, echoing concerns he raised publicly on two occasions in recent weeks.
“That is what it contemplates. What we have right now is a situation where, from my [position] as president, members of the fraternity, leader of the opposition, all have spoken out [about] this and what we have said [is]… we’ve not seen anything that would suggest why you are taking this long, and it is offensive that you do not feel the need to… explain why you are taking this long.”
He added: “The danger is that you create this sentiment or this understanding in the general public that the judiciary is an afterthought, that it can wait. And that is insidious.”
Asked what the harm could be from creating the perception that the judiciary is an after-thought, Parker responded: “The public has to be satisfied that justice was done, and these are people to be listened to, and at the end of the day, if you create an environment where people can trivialize or disregard the function and the role of the judge in society… that’s where it leads. It leads to the whole premise of societal living crumbling because… that is where you turn.
He added: “The court has to adjudicate upon matters involving the state and involving the state versus the individual, and then when you have a situation where you perceive that the court is under the thumb of the executive and you get a result you don’t like then you say, ‘It’s rigged, man. They’re singing for their supper.’ And you can’t have it like that. You just cannot have it like that.”
Two weeks ago, Minister of State for Legal Affairs Elsworth Johnson, a former president of the Bar Association, also called for a substantive chief justice to be appointed, highlighting the drawbacks of allowing the position to be left vacant for so long.
“There should be parity in these matters,” Johnson said. “It has been made clear as to who will lead the executive and legislative arms of government, and the same should be reflected in the judiciary.
“How is it that we have not moved with the same precision as it relates to the judicial arm of government?
“… The right, transparent and accountable thing to do is for the PM to exercise his constitutional authority and appoint a chief justice.
“The converse would be to allow the office, which is not above reasonable criticism, to be subjected to observations and sentiments that may not be in the best interest of the administration of justice.”
Given that he is a Cabinet minister, Johnson’s comments triggered strong backlash. He eventually apologized to the prime minister for making such statements publicly.