President of the Bar Association Liesel Weekes is not willing to be drawn into the raging public controversy over the legal qualifications of Opposition Leader Mia Mottley.
However, in light of recent comments made by the Barbados Labour Party’s St James North representative Edmund Hinkson, Weekes is making it clear that once a lawyer has completed ten years of practise here in Barbados, this was enough to qualify him or her to be appointed a High Court judge.
It was in response to a motion filed by the ruling Democratic Labour Party at its 62nd annual conference earlier this month, mandating DLP General Secretary George Pilgrim to draft correspondence to Attorney General Adriel Brathwaite asking him to clear the air on the issue of the Opposition Leader’s legal certification, that Hinkson, who is a member of the Bar Association, argued that there was no real breach by Mottley to speak of.
In fact, the Opposition member of Parliament suggested at the time that there was at least one sitting judge who was in the same boat as Mottley in terms of not having a legal certificate.
And without naming the judge, Hinkson pointed out that he was still sitting on the local bench.
“So what they [the DLP going to] say, that all decisions of that judge are null and void; that everybody who is in Glendairy sentenced by that judge should be released now?” Hinkson questioned.
Based on her knowledge of the laws of Barbados, Weekes said once you are a practising attorney for ten years you are qualified to sit as a High Court Judge.
“You don’t have to prove anything else. So whoever is sitting there is easily verifiable by reference to the roll of attorneys-at-law, whether or not you have been a practising attorney for ten years and once you have, there you go,” she told Barbados TODAY, adding that there was no need for High Court Judges to establish that they had also done mediation and community work.
However, she acknowledged that the rules were slightly more stringent when it came to the appointment of the Chief Justice or Court of Appeal justices.
While staying clear of the Mottley debate, Weekes also responded to recent criticisms levelled by a local cleric against the legal profession.
Though agreeing with Moravian priest Adrian Smith that “there were too many square pegs in round holes”, Weekes cautioned that the problem was bigger than the legal profession, even while highlighting a need for greater transparency when it comes to making legal appointments, including that of president of the Bar.
“People should know what is required of that particular office and the people should be in a position where they submit some evidence of their qualification according to that criteria,” Weekes said, adding that the problem with many local institutions was that “we have not set out specific criteria for what is best.
“I think that if you had a system where you had criteria set out and not just qualifications
. . . that is how you best know whether you have a round peg for a round hole, or if you are trying to fit a hexagon into it. And I think until we revisit how we do this, we are going to continue asking ourselves a question,” she said.
In a fiery sermon last week at the start of the 2017-2018 legal year, Reverend Smith said the profession needed to get rid of bad attitudes and behaviours and old mindsets if it wished to live up to its theme of Repositioning for World Class Excellence.
And, he said, it must begin by getting the right people for the job.
“Too often brothers and sisters, we have the wrong people in the wrong places. Sometimes it is for popularity, political reasons or selfish gain . . . but we have too many square pegs in round holes, whether by election or appointment. And I call upon the leadership of the legal fraternity that you must take a stand to get the right people in the right places,” the unapologetic priest told the audience, which included Chief Justice Sir Marston Gibson, Acting Attorney General Michael Lashley and members of the legal fraternity.