NASSAU, BAHAMAS — Bahamas Bar Association President Kahlil Parker today called for full enactment of the Freedom of Information Act, as well as legislation that will ensure the independence of the judiciary and Parliament, insisting the judiciary cannot rely on governments not to “abuse their borrowed powers”.
During the Opening of the Legal Year, Parker said the bar council has monitored and, where necessary, engaged the government regarding execution action taken on declaring, extending and managing the ongoing state of emergency.
He said the preservation of health and safety, and lives, remains a paramount concern as The Bahamas contends with the global pandemic, which has assaulted healthcare systems across the globe.
He also said now is not the time for retrospectives, but to renew calls for a substantively independent judiciary and legislature “in keeping with the constitutional promise of a separation of powers”.
“As citizens, we cede power to the government on the understanding that the constitutional system of checks and balances is [functional] and effective to guard against the executive, judicial or legislative overreach,” Parker said.
“We repeat our call for the debate and passage of a Court Services Bill to enhance the independence of our judiciary by [enabling] the judiciary to accountably and transparently manage its own financial and administrative affairs while promoting good governance, the rule of law and the separation of powers.”
He continued: “Having a chief justice or the registrar on their behalf, go cap in hand to the executive for the ordinary management and operation of the judiciary is unacceptable. Having the judiciary of The Bahamas treated like a Department of Public Service is likewise offensive to good governance.”
Parker said the bar council also endorses the call for the debate and passage of a Parliamentary Service Bill to enhance the independence of the legislature — a long-standing call of Speaker of the House of Assembly Halson Moultrie.
The bar council president said: “While the debate and passage of such a bill is not a panacea, resolving Parliament’s independence deficit from the executive is a necessary and overdue step forward.
“We cannot reasonably be asked to continue to rely upon or trust the goodwill and bona fides of those who happen to hold elected office not to abuse their borrowed powers.
“Our Constitution does not require that of us.
“We must, and do, insist that the rule of law is observed and preserved in spirit and practice.”
Freedom of information
Meanwhile, Parker said the ongoing pandemic and the measures undertaken by the government to mitigate the spread of the virus, further demonstrate the “urgency of the need” for the full enactment of the Freedom of Information Act, 2017.
“The stated objectives of the said act, namely the reinforcement and giving of further effect to fundamental principles underlying our constitutional democracy — namely, governmental accountability, transparency and public participation in national decision making — are laudable and urgent needs as we navigate the COVID-19 pandemic and hopefully, the post-COVID-19 environment,” Parker said.
He said it is imperative The Bahamas emerges from the state of emergency a more accountable, transparent and participatory democracy.
He added: “The ongoing pandemic has demonstrated how timely access to reliable information can be the difference between life and death, national success and collective failure.”