EDITORIAL: Sir Frederick got it wrong
As guardians of the public interest, we are more than a little concerned about a recent comment which has the capacity to challenge the competence, if not the integrity, of our High Court judges and the institution of the judiciary itself.
A retired Court of Appeal judge, Sir Frederick “Sleepy” Smith, was the eulogist at the funeral of the Honourable Lindsay Worrell, himself a retired local High Court judge who also succeeded Sir Frederick as Chief Justice of the Turks & Caicos Islands, and whose exemplary service, at home and abroad, as a judge earned him high praise.
Clearly, Justice Worrell was faithful to his oath of office, and Sir Frederick praised his childhood friend’s superior qualities as a good judge, who was fair to all.
But then Sir Frederick was quoted in our MIDWEEK NATION as having told the large audience that former Prime Minister Errol Barrow made “a very big mistake” of amending the Constitution to allow the Chief Justice to appoint puisne judges.
He continued: “I hope that it is changed and that the Judicial and Legal Services Commission appoints the judges of this country. That is the only way we are going to get a proper judicial system in Barbados and not yuh friends.”
In recent times, our people have shown a remarkable interest in how their country is governed against the background of developments in which the society and its major institutions have come under some stress. The church and the schools in particular have been blamed, sometimes unfairly, as falling short of the perceived duty to somehow forecast and proactively deal with the incipient problems of this young nation.
In the midst of several unworthy attempts to change the ancient landmarks of proper national conduct, and sober discourse, our judiciary, and the magistracy too, have both stood the test of time and have been praised for the exemplary conduct and the effort of the honourable men and women who carry out the very important function of adjudging disputes between citizens. We owe them a debt of gratitude, especially in these trying times.
But Sir Frederick’s comment suggests that there is no proper judicial system in this country and that it is attributable to Mr Barrow’s “big mistake” of amending the Constitution to allow holders of the office of Chief Justice to appoint the puisne (High Court) judges.
We anticipated a swift rebuttal to these comments, at the least, from the Bar Association, whose traditional duty includes defending the judiciary from unfair and unwarranted criticism, but not a word.
We therefore feel obliged to state, if only for the record, that our Independence Constitution empowered the Prime Minister to appoint the Chief Justice only; and also empowered the Judicial and Legal Services Commission to appoint the other puisne (High Court) judges.
In 1974 Mr Barrow’s administration changed the Constitution to allow the holder of the office of Prime Minister to appoint both the Chief Justice and the puisne (High Court) judges. Chief Justices do not appoint judges.
Sir Frederick has held high public office in this country as Attorney General, Minister of the Crown and Appeal Court judge. He speaks with the presumed authority of such distinguished public service
On this occasion, his facts were wrong, and are dead wrong, and his comments, based on those facts, are of spurious paternity, but they have the potential to undermine confidence in the judiciary if perchance they fall on fertile ground.
As defenders of the public interest, and against the backdrop of current reality, and as a paper of record, we felt a duty not to remain silent!