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‘A tenuous position’

Uncertainty over who will serve as chief justice has made it difficult for the judiciary to make long-term plans for the future, Acting Chief Justice Vera Watkins said Wednesday.

Watkins has functioned as head of the judiciary since the death of Chief Justice Stephen Isaacs on August 24, 2018.

When Isaacs declared the 2018 legal year open, he too was acting chief justice.

During the Opening of the Legal Year on Wednesday, Watkins said, “The indisputable fact is that while it may be so that I am sitting in this chair as acting chief justice at this moment, I am not certain as to whether I will be sitting in this chair later on today.

“I am not certain as to whether I will be sitting in this chair tomorrow morning.

“As a result of the tenuous position in which I find myself, it may be a futile exercise to make any long-term plans for the judiciary. As the saying goes, I live or I work from day to day.”

She said, “In January 2018, the late Chief Justice Isaacs sat in this chair and presided over the opening ceremony. At that time he did so as acting chief justice.

“Today, I am sitting in the same chair and presiding over the opening ceremony in the capacity of acting chief justice.”

Former Chief Justice Sir Hartman Longley was sworn in as Court of Appeal president in December 2017.

Isaacs acted as chief justice until he became chief justice in July 2018. He was sworn in on August 10 and died two weeks later.

Watkins said, “The fact that there was no appointment of a chief justice for a period of eight months last year, together with the untimely passing of the former Chief Justice Isaacs, and the fact that the judiciary is still without a substantive chief justice, has been a tremendous challenge, as it is difficult for the judiciary to make any long-term plans for the future.”

In his address, Bahamas Bar Association President Kahlil Parker said the “proliferation of acting judicial appointments” had a “deleterious effect on both the perceived and the actual independence of the judiciary, which compromises its ability to function as a check and balance against the other two branches of government”.

At the moment, there are two acting appellate court justices and one acting Supreme Court judge.

Parker said, “My Lady, you have the unenviable task of projecting aspirations for the year from a constitutional post which you have no way of knowing whether you will continue to hold tomorrow.

“During the past legal year, we suffered the national loss of our sitting chief justice, His Lordship the Honorable Chief Justice the late Mr. Stephen G. Isaacs, who was himself charged with the similarly unenviable task a year ago.”

When asked about the appointment of a substantive chief justice earlier this week, Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis told The Tribune that “we will deal with it at the appropriate time”.

He shied away from giving a timeline because “the press holds me very seriously to timelines”. 

“So no timeliness right now, but you will know in short order,” he said.

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