AG-Opposition spar over judicial appointment

AG-Opposition spar over judicial appointment
Progressive Liberal Party Philip Brave Davis (file photo)

NASSAU, BAHAMAS — The appointment of former Supreme Court Justice Carolita Bethel to the Court of Appeal did not receive the support of the Official Opposition, according to its leader Philip Davis yesterday.

Davis called for more transparency over the appointment process, noting he had indicated “widespread opposition” to the appointment in several consultations with the prime minister.

The Opposition leader also claimed the constitutionally mandated consultative process, and subsequent procedures had not been followed.

However, in a later statement, Attorney General Carl Bethel accused Davis of making a “highly political” and personal attack against the judge, and the constitution.

Bethel said Davis’ comments appear to seek to besmirch not only the process of appointment, but also the appellate judge.

He stressed the constitutional mandates governing the appointment were strictly adhered to.

Justice Carolita Bethel was sworn in by Governor General Cornelius A Smith during a brief ceremony at Government House on Thursday, August 6.

She was appointed to the Supreme Court in 2013, and had previously served as Deputy Chief Magistrate.

In his initial press statement, Davis said he told Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis there was “widespread, strong and fervent opposition” to the appointment.

Davis continued: “My party is aware of the objections and the reasons why. They are cogent and should not have been dismissed by the Prime Minister. I did not think the consultations were complete. There must be a more open and transparent process which openly examines the fitness of a judge to be appointed to the court.”

For his part, the attorney general noted Justice Bethel has never been accused of any “misbehavior” or “inability” in the performance of her judicial responsibilities.

He pointed to her decades of her service to the Judiciary and the Bahamian people.

“This is unworthy of a person holding the constitutional office of Leader of the Opposition,” Bethel said.

“The Learned Justice of Appeal has held “high judicial office” as a Supreme Court Justice [Article 99(2)(a)] for many years, and has fully satisfied the constitutional qualification for appointment as a Justice of Appeal.

“The Prime Minister, in accordance with Article 99(1) of the Constitution, duly consulted with the Leader of the Opposition.

Bethel added: “The Leader of the Opposition’s Statement is, therefore, abusive both of the Constitution and is nothing more than a malignant, politicized abuse of the Justice of Appeal.”

In a response to the AG, Davis insisted his statement was not personal but from a legal standpoint.

“I said in my earlier statement that the consultations were not at an end,” Davis said.

“I was making a legal point not a political point. 

“The Constitution at Article 79 (5) reads as follows:  “Where the Governor-General is directed to exercise any function on the recommendation of the Prime Minister after consultation with the Leader of the Opposition, the following steps shall be taken — (a) the Prime Minister shall first consult the Leader of the Opposition and thereafter tender his recommendation to the Governor-General; (b) the Governor-General shall then inform the Leader of the Opposition of that recommendation and if the Leader of the Opposition concurs therein the Governor General shall act in accordance with the recommendation; (c) if the Leader of the Opposition does not concur in the recommendation, the Governor-General shall so inform the Prime Minister and refer the recommendation back to him; (d) the Prime Minister shall then advise the Governor-General and the Governor-General shall act in accordance with that advice. ”

“That procedure was not followed,” Davis said.

Davis furthered four senior judges were passed over to make the appointment.

Davis said: “I am not impressed nor shaken in my views by the Attorney General’s righteous indignation. He protests too much. I am disappointed that the chief lawyer of the country does not appreciate the point that the law must be followed. I remain opposed to the appointment.”

Back in June, Bahamas Bar Association President Khalil Parker issued a strong warning to the prime minister over the lack of consultation for judicial appointments.

In an open letter to Minnis, dated June 29, Parker reiterated calls for an open, fair, and transparent process of the next appointment of Chief Justice and President of the Court of Appeal.