Government’s decision to appoint five new judges to assist with the backlog of cases has come under immense scrutiny from Opposition Leader, Bishop Joseph Atherley who believes the process for appointing the new judges is not sufficiently independent of political interference.
The amendments make provisions for the establishment of a committee tasked with appointing the judges, Bishop Atherley believes more steps must be taken to facilitate the development of a more independent judiciary.
Under the law, the prime minister is given power to appoint judges, however under the Supreme Court of Judicature Act amendment, the power to make recommendations for the appointment of judges has been vested in a committee. However, the prime minister also appoints that committee, a policy, which Bishop Atherley believes, has not sufficiently addressed the need for total separation between the judiciary and the executive arm of government.
“So we have before us today a committee which will be put in place to oversee the process of advertising and screening applicants for positions on the Bench in Barbados. That is being touted as a move in the right direction if we want to ensure the appearance of independence of action relative to the appointment of judges and that is fine, except when we get to the point that the members of the committee are in fact appointed by the prime minister,” he said.
While he insisted he was making “no charge against the incumbent prime minister,” Atherley argued that Parliament simply had not done enough to address the shortcoming, by completely removing from potential political influence the appointment of judges.
“This arrangement does not fully take us there,” he said.
“We ought to have fully manifest independence attaching to judicial appointments. This particular piece of legislation though headed in the right direction, does not get us there,” he added.
The opposition leader also took aim at government’s decision to appoint the five judges, questioning the level of thought, which had gone into the decision. Although it was intended to help speed up the country’s notorious backlog of cases, Bishop Atherley suggested government might not have done sufficient research when making its decision.
“Beyond that consideration, the question would be, what other research, what other studies and what other analysis may have been done to bring government to the position where it believes that we have to increase the number of judges, and that we need to have it increased by five? What is the studied basis for that, what is the analytical basis for that and what research has been done to inform that decision, if any?
“Decisions like this are usually based on these types of premises,” he concluded.