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EDITORIAL: Barbados’ legal system vs that of the US


EDITORIAL: Barbados’ legal system vs that of the US

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SOME RECENT EVENTS in Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago and the United States underscore the strong and weak sides of Barbados’ judicial system.

First the weak.

Fed up with the snail’s pace of justice in Barbados, the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) has consistently slapped our system of justice across its face, not on its proverbial wrist.

The thundering criticisms by the Port of Spain-based CCJ have been about the “inordinate systemic delay” in the Barbados judiciary and the need for the local court’s administrators to do something about this ugly trend. After all, justice delayed is justice denied.

It’s time for Chief Justice Sir Marston Gibson, his fellow judges and Attorney General Adriel Brathwaite to listen to the country’s top court and improve the workings of the judicial system.

That brings us to the strong side of our courts.

To appreciate what we have, we should be bemused by what’s happening in the United States as its political leaders quarrel over who should dispense justice in the US Supreme Court.

The recent passing of Justice Antonin Scalia, a long-time conservative member of the Supreme Court, has triggered a loud and vitriolic political fight over who should succeed him. The justice, who was 79, was a conservative ideologue and therefore the darling of right-wing political groups, including Republicans and Tea Party members.

Under provisions of the US Constitution, it’s the president who nominates federal judges while the Senate considers and ultimately decides a nominee’s suitability for the exalted position. It has been like that for more than 200 years.

But fearing President Obama’s choice, who has already placed two justices on the court and can place a third as Scalia’s successor, Republicans want to change the rules and are vowing to kick the constitution to the curb by ignoring the president’s recommendation, even before someone has been chosen.

The president’s opponents have come up with the spurious argument that Mr Scalia’s replacement should be left to the next president who takes office in January. They worry his choice may change the ideological complexion of the court, moving it from conservative to liberal for many years to come. It’s about politics, not justice.

But Obama is determined to nominate someone to fill the vacancy. He should act and do it without hesitation.

The political squabble over a Supreme Court justice in Washington is important because it should help us in Barbados appreciate our own court system and how we select our judges. Appointments to our courts are routinely made by the Governor General on the recommendation of the Prime Minister who consults the Opposition Leader.

Competence, legal experience and character, certainly not political ideology, are our criteria. That’s how it should be. Fairness, temperament and independence undergird the public’s confidence in our judicial system. We should endeavour to keep it that way.

Our system may be imperfect but we should say thanks for its independence.