Judicial independence would finally be more than a catchphrase when a bill that would give the courts financial autonomy is passed.
Speaking at a ceremony to mark the opening of the legal year yesterday, Attorney General Carl Bethel, QC, said the passage of the Court Administration Bill “will clearly demonstrate the political will of Parliament, as a whole, towards further strengthening the independence of the judiciary”.
Once enacted, the bill would create a Courts Administration Council, overseen by the chief justice, (CJ) and remove the authority of government on administrative matters, including the hiring and dismissal of employees.
Bethel said that the bill would be tabled and passed into law before the end of the first quarter of this year and well before the next annual budget.
The council would have control over the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeal, the Magistrates’ Courts, the Coroner’s Court and any other court or tribunal that the chief justice designates as a participating court, Bethel said.
“The intent is to firmly and effectively remove the operations, decisions, staffing and day-to-day expenditure of the court system from the public service bureaucracy, and direct executive control, and to provide the council with full authority, guided by the CJ, to fully administer the affairs of the courts, inclusive of retaining or engaging and dis-engaging employees,” he said.
The bill, which has existed in draft form for almost a decade, will be released for public consultation this week, Bethel said.
He said the government renewed its commitment to the bill based on the representations from Chief Justice Brian Moree, QC.
Moree said at the opening, “Subject to the ultimate supervision of Parliament, the judiciary should be allowed to manage its own budget while being accountable for executing its constitutional mandates in an efficient and effective manner.
“In this regard, I understand that the government has before it the draft court services bill to establish a statutory independent council as an administrative authority independent of control by the executive government to manage the courts.
“I encourage the government to pass this bill in order to strengthen the court system, deepen the independence of the judiciary and facilitate the widespread implementation of reforms.”
Bar Council President Kahlil Parker also addressed the issue of judicial independence.
He said, “The constitutional promise of the separation of powers has hitherto been aspirational as opposed to being substantive.
“We are therefore determined and committed to ensuring that constitutional and legislative steps are taken forthwith to make that separation, and its attendant constitutional protections, real.”