Bahamas Bar Association calls for legislative separation of powers

Bahamas Bar Association calls for legislative separation of powers
Bahamas Bar Association President Kahlil Parker

NASSAU, BAHAMAS – Bahamas Bar Association President Kahlil Parker yesterday made an urgent call to action for the separation of powers in the three branches of government.

Parker also called for a public commitment to be made to ensure due process in the appointment of Queen’s Counsel, and the appointment and promotion of all judges, judicial and legal officers.

He made the comments during a special sitting to mark the opening on the New Legal Year 2020.

“My Lord you are the head of our Judiciary,” Parker said, addressing Chief Justice Brian Moree.

“You are the head of the third and co-equal branch of our government.

“We have insisted upon and campaigned for stability at the top of our judiciary.

“We look forward to your support as we continue to work to bring about substantive improvements in the administration of justice in The Bahamas.

“We are relying on you to stand with the bar as we seek to entrench transparency, meritocracy, and due process in the operation of the courts, the appointment and promotion of judges, magistrates, and all other judicial officers, as well as the appointment and promotion of senior legal officers.”

The three branches of government include the executive, legislative and judicial.

Parker noted that the “constitutional promise” of the separation of powers has been “aspirational” as opposed to “substantive” to date.

“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,” he added.

The bar president also took the opportunity to note that there are several members of the bar and bench still awaiting consideration of long-standing Queen’s Counsel appointment applications and applications for judicial appointment and promotion.

“The pathway to the bench and senior legal office in this country must be meritocratic, straight and narrow, and it must also be transparent and accessible to all,” Parker said.

“There are members of the bar and bench qualified and ready to serve their country and all they want for is a reasonable and fair opportunity to be considered.

“We insist that a public commitment be made to ensuring meritocracy, transparency, and due process in the appointment of Queen’s Counsel and the appointment and promotion of all judges and judicial and legal officers.

“This must include the reasonable and public advertisement of vacant posts, a clear and detailed application process, and meaningful consideration of applications and consultation with the Bar with respect thereto.”

In his address at the event, Attorney General Carl Bethel said the government has given its commitment to finalize the Court Administration Act – the draft of which has been around since at least 2010.

“We are going to go through the final stages and hopefully before we end this quarter, and certainly before the next annual budget, we would have passed this  Court Administration Act,” Bethel said.

This act would emancipate the Supreme Court from being a mere item head in the budget of the Office of the Attorney General.”

He noted that the bill, once enacted, would  further enhance the constitutional independence of the judiciary by transferring all day-to-day administrative and financial controls to a new “Courts Administration Council” which will be headed by the chief justice.

He said the council will be a body corporate and shall be “independent in the performance of its functions” with responsibility to manage all “participating Courts”, which will include: the Supreme Court; the Court of Appeal; the Magistrates Courts; the Coroner’s Courts; and any other court or tribunal declared by the chief justice to be a “participating court”.

“The intent is to firmly and effectively remove the operations, decision making, anything to do with staffing or the day to day expenditure of the court totally from the control of bureaucracy, or from direct executive influence, 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 or dis-engaging employees,” Bethel said.

He added that a finalized draft is expected by the end of the week.

Scores of legal professionals marched down Bay Street dressed in full regalia for the annual event.