With increased scrutiny on Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis’ failure to name a substantive chief justice, former Attorney General Alfred Sears said given the vital importance of the role, it is highly unfortunate the prime minister has not seen fit to honor “the principles of judicial independence”.
“We would never allow the executive and/or the legislature to be without a prime minister, to be without a speaker [of the House of Assembly], and president [of the Senate], and it is unfortunate that the judiciary does not have a confirmed chief justice,” Sears told The Nassau Guardian.
Senior Justice Stephen Isaacs was appointed acting chief justice last December, replacing former Chief Justice Sir Hartman Longley, who was appointed president of the Court of Appeal.
Members of the judiciary, including the Bahamas Bar Association (BBA), have decried the failure to appoint a substantive chief justice, calling it an egregious affront on the independence of the third branch of government.
Minnis has been consistently questioned on when a substantive chief justice will be named.
On each occasion, the prime minister has either suggested the government was prioritizing other matters, avoided the subject altogether, or has been vague.
He was pressed on the matter once again on Monday.
“You [will] know with time,” Minnis told reporters at the Department of Labour.
“When that is done, the Cabinet Office will release a statement. We cannot function without one. We will have a chief justice and one will be appointed. You will know when Cabinet releases the appropriate statement.”
Yesterday, Sears suggested that having an acting justice for an extended period sends the wrong message.
“The head of the judiciary ought not to be acting for any extended period of time because of the principles of judicial independence require that nobody really ought to be serving, hoping, praying or wishing they are confirmed,” Sears said.
He continued, “The confidence of the international community, in terms of domestic stability, the judiciary is part of that glue that helps to maintain a civilized society, and therefore the leadership should be confirmed.”
On Tuesday, Opposition Leader Philip Brave Davis said despite rumors floating around that a chief justice will be appointed soon, he has yet to be consulted on the appointment.
“The post of chief justice is not only a constitutional post, but that person heads the third, and independent, equal, branch of government, called the judiciary,” he said.
“This must be a priority for all governments. The length of time that post has remained vacant is simply inexcusable.
“I sincerely hope that the Cabinet reshuffle is not a clandestine attempt by the prime minister to subvert justice to make a political appointment that runs counter to the best interest of The Bahamas.”
In February, Attorney General Carl Bethel downplayed concerns on the appointment, and said no one “in their right mind can seriously suggest the executive was in any way, interfering or trying to interfere with the administration of justice in The Bahamas.”
He said the acting chief justice was impartial and independent as mandated by the constitution.
BBA President Kahlil Parker wrote to Attorney General Carl Bethel that month, expressing alarm that no one had yet been named to the substantive post.
Parker raised the matter once again in March, lamenting the lack of the substantive appointment.
In a statement entitled “Our judiciary must be unfettered”, Parker said over the years the undermining of this nation’s democracy has been an insidious process, involving “callous and sweeping abuses of power by the executive against which we have continuously railed as a people; a legislature asleep at the wheel while democratic institutions and statutory bulwarks against abuses of power crumble; and slow and steady attempts to create a tame, compromised, and impotent judiciary”.