The President of the Senate Sir Richard Johnny Cheltenham stunned fellow lawmakers Wednesday night as he announced his retirement from the Upper House.
Sir Richard, 78, who took up the post on June 5, 2018 with the new Parliament, said his retirement would be effective on August 30 – just as he adjourned the Senate “sine die” (indefinitely) to accommodate Parliament’s mid-year break.
He told the senators his decision was based on “earlier” developments “about which you will hear later”.
But speculation late Wednesday suggested the renowned jurist may be in line for elevation to the judiciary in an acting appointment. If proved correct, he would follow contemporary Labour politician Sir David Simmons, a former Attorney General who became Chief Justice in 2002.
Although the Constitution sets age limits of 67 and 72 years on judges and the Chief Justice respectively, it makes provision for acting judicial appointments beyond retirement age. Sir Richard turns 80 in December 2021.
Sir Richard’s departure from the Senate comes as the Government failed to secure the two-thirds majority needed to pass the Integrity in Public Life Bill through the Senate as four lawmakers were absent for the vote and two abstained.
He told the Chamber: “Please let me indicate that there have been developments earlier today, about which you will hear later, which now compel me to make this statement which I will now do. This is the last session of the Senate before its prorogation and I consider it the appropriate time to indicate that effective August 30 I shall be retiring from the Senate. It has been a great privilege and an immense honour serving as President.
“I am satisfied that there is an array of rich and diverse talent in our Senate and I assure you that I shall continue to follow each and every one of you with much interest. I shall miss you all. I want to thank the Clerk and the entire support staff all of whom have been immensely helpful and supportive to my tour of duty. I want to thank my deputy, Senator [Rudolph] Greenidge, for all the props and support he has given me throughout my tour of duty. I shall miss you all and I wish to thank you and extend to you my very best wishes.”
Leader of Government Business Senator Dr Jerome Walcott rose and in gaining the President’s permission to speak post-adjournment, he thanked Sir Richard for his service and guidance.
Senator Walcott said: “You have caught me in total surprise. I must say on behalf of all honourable members of this Chamber it comes as a surprise to all of us and I must say that we will certainly miss your guidance, your wisdom, your years, your experience, your knowledge garnered over several years in this Chamber and the other place and your ability to reflect soberly on some matters that we consider tumultuous from time to time.”
Senator Walcott added: “I must attest to your diligence, how you would go through everything in terms of the order paper. I certainly commend you and I thank you for all of your diligent work over the past two years and we will certainly miss you. I wish you all the best and all of God’s blessings in the future and on your future endeavours.”
Independent Senator Toni Moore echoed similar sentiments.
She said: “I want to stand as an Independent Senator and commend you and thank you for the exceptional way that you have led the business in this honourable chamber. This was my first experience and I think that under your guidance you made it a very interesting one. It certainly has been a learning experience. I want to take this opportunity after your announcement to thank you for your indulgence. I wish you well.”
Senators Lynette Holder and Rev. Dr John Rogers also praised the Chamber’s leader, a veteran politician and one of the country’s most accomplished criminal barristers.
Sir Richard served in five different ministries in Labour Party administrations and was a Member of Parliament for 23 years. He served under three prime ministers, beginning with Tom Adams.
A highly respected Caribbean jurist, Sir Richard has practised in most jurisdictions of the Eastern Caribbean and has argued cases before the Privy Council in London. He is an acknowledged specialist in the area of Commissions of Inquiry.