Can’t we keep the politics out of the court?
The doctrine of the separation of powers, which divides the three branches of government –– the legislature, the executive and the judiciary –– is sacrosanct. And long may this principle be upheld as a pillar of good governance!
In recent days, we were served with powerful reminders of why politics and the judiciary must remain like oil and water, compliments of the outspoken Minister of Industry and Commerce Donville Inniss, who offloaded his “troubles” with the Caribbean Court of Justice before fellow lawmakers in the Lower House.
Mr Inniss revealed he was “deeply troubled by the absence of Barbadians on the Caribbean Court of Justice and by the place being administered by citizens of countries [that] have refused and find all kinds of excuses not to have the CCJ as their final court of appeal”.
He also argued that they were enough distinguished Barbadian jurists who had served across the region and were therefore well qualified to sit on the CCJ.
“But for whatever reason, we cannot find it fit to get one there,” Mr Inniss charged.
We were at a loss then to understand his needless troubles, but days later he left us even more befuddled when he hit back at critics who rightly rubbished his diatribe.
Said Mr Inniss over the weekend before faithfuls of the Democratic Labour Party at a joint branch meeting of St Michael Central and St Micheal South-Central: “There will be no retreat; there will be no surrender for me on that particular position, because it smacks of the epitome of hypocrisy within the CARICOM region that countries that have not agreed to have the Caribbean Court of Justice as the final court of appeal can control that court. If that is the case, we might as well stay with the Privy Council.”
We won’t go so far as attorney-at-law and Opposition MP Kerrie Symmonds to dismiss the minister’s statement as “meaningless drivel and brainless buffoonery”, but we aver that Mr Inniss’ comments do deserve some similar disdain as that meted out to the controversial “ever so welcome, wait for a call” delivered by late Prime Minister David Thompson in 2008, when he addressed the annual awards ceremony of the Guyana Manufacturers Association.
To use a popular term in the courtroom, we find both statements out of order; and we would not like to surmise that the senior minister is hitting back at the CCJ, which recently delivered a stern rebuke to the representatives of our local court system for the “excessive and inordinate” delays in resolving cases. Let’s not confuse the message with the messenger. The cries have been persistent even at home for the Government to fix the justice system.
But back to the issue at hand, the Caribbean Court of Justice is not a Barbadian, Guyanese, Trinidadian or St Lucian court; and must not be reduced to such. This insularity that is perpetrated by politicians who tout regional integration on the CARICOM stage and spew narrow-mindedness to their electorate back home must be treated as the refuse it is.
It can never be disputed the high quality of jurists that Barbados has produced. In fact, it was no less than our very own distinguished former Chief Justice Sir David Simmons, who steered the establishment of the Trinidad and Tobago-based regional court as chairman of the preparatory committee, and then as the first chairman of the Regional Judicial And Legal Services Commission, the very body set up to ensure that politicians are kept from handpicking judges to sit on the court.
But if for a wild moment we attempted to ease the troubles of Minister Inniss, shouldn’t Belize and Guyana, the other two full members of the CCJ, insist they have judges on the bench too? Perhaps, each government that contributes to the upkeep of a regional institution should insist on having one of its nationals in a prominent leadership role –– whether it be the Caribbean Examination Council (CXC), Caribbean Export, the University of the West Indies, or the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency?
These are not the kinds of argument one would expect from the very country that holds lead responsibility for the establishment of the CARICOM Single Market and Economy, which is at the centre of the integration movement.
To the unrepentant minister we urge that he lend his energy instead to persuading his regional colleagues to stop loitering on colonial premises and join Barbados, Belize, Guyana and now Dominica as full members of the CCJ.
Even more so, Mr Inniss would be well in order if he could urge his Cabinet colleagues to make urgent, needed changes to our local system to ensure the delivery of justice is always swift and sure, and free of the interference of politicians.