Former Cabinet minister reflects on 48 years of nationhood
He is the oldest remaining parliamentarian and former Cabinet minister of the Errol Barrow era of leadership of the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) that took Barbados into independence 48 years ago.
At 90, Sir Frederick Smith, affectionately known as Sleepy, is still very much aware and intellectually “sharp” – not to mention as blunt as he has ever been.
Sir Frederick has seen it all, literally, having been a “poor man’s” lawyer, a Queen’s Counsel, a high court judge and an attorney general, among his numerous top-ranked judicial posts across the Caribbean. He will also go down in history as the lawyer who dared to represent the infamous “great train robber” Ronald Biggs, when he ended up in Barbados during his flight from the law in Britain.
But with all his iconic achievements in the arena of jurisprudence, being Barbadian and living in an independent nation is nearest and dearest to his heart.
“There is no doubt we have benefited from Independence,” says Sir Frederick.
“There is no human being that I know who doesn’t want to be independent. We don’t have to go through the British Government anymore,” he acknowledged during a recent interview at his Wanstead, St James home.
“When we have problems nationally, we can directly go international agencies, international governments and beg if we have to beg and get our problems solved,” he added.
He acknowledged that before the island achieved self-government, it had to get the approval of the British government because London was responsible for this island’s foreign affairs and internal peace and security.
“But now we can do it on our own, we don’t have to depend on the British government, so we have benefited from independence,” added Sir Frederick, who was also a former Minister of Home Affairs.
However, the retired jurist says there are still some things for which independent Barbados has been tried and found “guilty as charged.”
For instance, “we haven’t changed the economy; we haven’t stopped the White people from owning the land and the business, and to that extent we have failed,” he said in his usual no nonsense and forthright manner.
The former Opposition Leader told Barbados TODAY he had hoped that by this time, the economy would have changed hands but lamented it had not, contending that even though the Government could “tax them [members of the former plantocracy] to death”, it still was not in control of the “goose that laid the golden egg”.
“The economy has not changed. It is still in the same hands as it was back in 1965,” argued Sir Frederick, a former minister of trade.
Turning to the current state of industrial relations in Barbados, Sir Frederick said the country was now at a turning point.
“We miss [Sir] Frank Walcott,” he said, describing the former Barbados Workers’ Union boss as a giant of a man who “nobody” in the union today could aspire to be like.
“If you are wrong, he would tell you you are wrong and if you are right, he would tell you are right.”
“You can operate on that basis. He did not have to cater to the man in the street. He was the man who could control the industrial relations [situation], but we are [now] at a turning point.”
A former Chief Justice of the Turks & Caicos Islands and ex-president of the Court of Appeal in Grenada, Sir Frederick also reviewed the constitution of Cayman Islands for the British Foreign Office in the late 1990s.
He also commented on the quality of leadership in Barbados over the past 48 years, saying it has been good from day one, although he was quick to add that the leaders were not without faults.
Regarding the justice system, the former Court of Appeal justice was particularly dissatisfied with what he felt was the politics of appointing judges.
For him, the prime minister should not be appointing judges.
“The judiciary should be appointed as it was before by a Judicial and Legal Service Commission, because then you would be able to see who is a good lawyer and who is a bad lawyer. But once you put it political . . . if you look and put prime ministers to appoint judicial officers, they are going to appoint their friends.”
“I mean, some of the people in the High Court never appeared in the High Court yet. Some have never had any experience challenging a jury. I mean they learn, they are intelligent enough to learn. But when you come to the question of appointments, that is where the judiciary falls down.”
The former attorney general also strongly suggested that judges who did not return judgments within at least six months should be fired.
He said he had already put the idea to the Chief Justice Sir Marston Gibson.
”As I told the Chief Justice already, if a fellow does not give a judgment, send him home and say I giving you leave. Come back with the judgments by a certain time. And I have also maintained that failing to give a judgment within six months, should be a reason why a judge should be dismissed,” contended the retired Appeals Court justice.