The appointment of Chief Justice (CJ) Marston Gibson has generated heated debate in some quarters. Today President of the Barbados Bar Association Andrew Pilgrim criticized the current system which which sees the Prime Minister appointing judges. It seems he was peeved about the reason which Gibson offered for accepting the appointment in the face of the public furore directed at his appointment. Gibson indicated it was a promise he made to late Prime Minister Thompson which he felt obligated to honour. Pilgrim’s view differs with his colleague Ralph Thorne who believes the quality of decisions by a Prime Minister will be judged by the electorate. Therefore a Prime Minister has a vested interest in appointing quality judges to the bench. It should be noted based on a little research, all the sitting judges were appointed by Prime Minister Owen Arthur.
In the weekend news just passed there was the obligatory public relations spread which sought to give the public an insight into what to expect from the incoming CJ. BU would have asked the harder questions but such is the lay of the land. In the Public Relations job facilitated by Tony Best of the Nation Gibson articulated changes he plans to implement when he assumes office. By the way did BU miss it or was the position officially announced by government? His interview generated mild comment in some quarters while others suggested CJ Gibson has not stated anything that has not already made it into the public domain and in some instances are in the process of being implemented.
The following is an extract from Sir David Simmon’s speech at the opening of the Special Sitting of the Supreme Court to mark the commencement of the legal year 2009-2010 at the new Judicial Building. One of the advantages the incoming CJ will have is that he will be under the public microscope like no other CJ who preceded him. He will therefore have to be very wary when he makes public statements. A read of Sir David’s speech touches many of the suggestions proffered by Gibson in the weekend press, you decide.
36. I turn now to the trial of criminal cases in the High Court. In 2006 the system of Assizes was abolished and replaced with continuous trials in the High Court. At the time of abolition, I explained that such a decision would increase the number of trial days. I am happy to report that, whereas under the system of Assizes we were never able to complete more than 135 cases in any one year, in the year 2008, over 200 cases were completed under the new system but using the traditional two courts.
37. At this new facility, we have facilities to run three criminal courts simultaneously and we should therefore be able to complete even more trials than in 2008. However, before increasing the number of courts trying criminal cases, I think that it would be prudent to make sure that all the systems in this new building are functioning properly and smoothly before experimenting.
38. I think that the time has also come for the abolition of another procedure of long tradition. At the Judicial Retreat 2007, over 100 recommendations were made to tackle the problem of delay in the criminal justice process. One key recommendation for which we shall seek the support of the Attorney-General is the abolition of the preliminary inquiry into indictable offences. I was awaiting the outcome of a case in the Privy Council where an appellant in Antigua challenged the constitutionality of abolition of the preliminary inquiry in that jurisdiction. The Privy Council gave its decision earlier this year, holding that abolition of the preliminary inquiry does not violate the Constitution. In due course, therefore, I shall be writing to the Hon. Attorney-General to have the necessary statutory amendments made, if he and the Cabinet are agreeable.