Saturday, April 13, 2024

ONLY HUMAN: Politics in CJ case unfortunate


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It should never have come to that!
Certain aspects of governance need to be above the political fray, and the appointment of a Chief Justice is one of them. The public must never be left to wonder whether this vital arm of our country’s management has in some way been compromised by politicians.
What is disturbing is that, with greater political maturity, this issue could have been amicably resolved through behind-the-scenes discussion. That it wasn’t says much about the level to which our political directorate have fallen in handling this country’s affairs.
For Government, the issue was that no legislation should be in place to prohibit any qualified Barbadian from contributing to his or her country’s development.
As Attorney General Adriel Brathwaite argued, it was untenable that a Pakistani lawyer who did not understand English qualified under existing legislation to be Chief Justice of Barbados, but Marston Gibson, an eminently qualified Barbadian, could be barred because he has not practised law in a Commonwealth country for the15-year period, as the old legislation stipulated.
Gibson has practised in the United States – a non-Commonwealth jurisdiction.
Brathwaite said the amendments were to bring clarity to existing legislation and stressed the issue should not be politicized.
He said the principal amendment to Section 7 of the act would see the addition of the words “Common Law” to the existing “Commonwealth” in reference to jurisdiction.
The Opposition argued that Government was amending legislation simply to accommodate one man and that was wrong. It was also irrelevant that the amendment would accommodate other Barbadians in the future.
Deputy Opposition Leader and former Attorney General Dale Marshall in presenting his colleagues’ position stated that the Supreme Court of Judicature Act had been amended six times since 1991 but the qualification for judges had never been tinkered with.
He said Government had included “Common Law” in the legislation but could bring no indisputable list of Common Law jurisdictions, and suggested there were some who considered the US both a civil and common law jurisdiction and therefore a mixed jurisdiction.
Of course, the backdrop to all this political division was the appointment of the last Chief Justice, Sir David Simmons.
Sir David got the job under a Barbados Labour Party administration, in which he served as Attorney General before resigning from active politics and taking up the top judicial post about six months later.
The then opposition Democratic Labour Party denounced that move. When they returned to office in January 2008 and Sir David’s contract came to an end a year later, it was not renewed as had become the custom.
So, as far as the Government’s side was concerned, the Opposition’s objection to the amendments that would facilitate Gibson’s ascent was no more than “payback” for the Dems’ hostility to the appointment of Sir David years earlier.
Marshall contended, however, that the Opposition’s position had nothing to do with how Government had “spitefully” refused to extend Sir David’s tenure as Chief Justice and was not against the amendment because of anything done to him. Unfortunately, the very reference and the raw emotions that still seemed to have been provoked by the memory of the Dems’ response made his words ring hollow.
As far as I am concerned, both parties demonstrated their petty political prejudice and lost an opportunity to show national unity on an issue that it is vital that politicians should not seem to be influencing.
On this issue, both parties have been weighed in the balance of public opinion and found wanting.


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