The resolution of the CJ appointment
Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis has taken too long to appoint a chief justice. Just two weeks after he was sworn in to the post, Stephen Isaacs died on August 24, 2018. He was 63.
Isaacs mostly acted as chief justice after Sir Hartman Longley left the post and was appointed president of the Court of Appeal in December 2017.
Minnis has been criticized by the opposition, the Bar Association and even a member of his Cabinet for his delay. The prime minister makes the choice.
Of late, though, it is known behind the scenes that Brian Moree will be the next chief justice. No formal announcement has been made.
Moree has a large practice. We assume he needs time to transition from that to his new role. The expectation is he will be appointed soon.
The choice of Moree has been in the newspapers. It has been discussed in legal circles. It is, therefore, unclear why the president of the Bar Association still pursues the same line of attack in this matter.
The prime minister’s failure to name a substantive chief justice is “constitutionally unacceptable and disappointing”, said Kahlil Parker said on Wednesday.
“It is a situation of great regret on my part and disappointment that we’ve had this long [and] protracted period of uncertainty at the top of the judiciary,” he told The Nassau Guardian.
“Let it not be thought by the public that the judiciary is subjugated to the whims of the executive. It is a third branch of our government in its own right and we are enduring this period.
“But we hope to have this question definitely resolved shortly.”
While Parker is right to criticize Minnis for how long it has taken, now that a choice has been made, and an announcement is imminent, why still argue the same thing?
It would be more reasonable at this stage to state that in the future the prime minister should act faster. We are past the phase when no one was selected.
Supreme Court Justice Vera Watkins currently serves as acting chief justice. During the Opening of the Legal Year in January, she perfectly articulated the problem that results from the absence of a substantive officeholder.
“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 [Stephen] 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,” she said.
Few acting officeholders would engage in the hard task of reform and innovation without security of tenure. Hence, the status quo, and all the problems of the system, would likely persist.
The issue of not substantively filling offices goes beyond the Office of the Chief Justice. All across the public service there are people in open-ended acting posts. Some do so for many years. This is unfair to them; it adds dysfunction to the system; and it lowers organizational morale.
The people legally empowered to appoint should do their jobs and decide in a timely manner. Vet the in-house candidates. If none meet the mark, look outside the organization or country.
No one should be acting in senior offices of state for years on end. It has become a norm in The Bahamas. That shouldn’t be.