The attention of the Antigua and Barbuda Bar Council has been drawn to certain comments made via the Radio Observer on a radio programme known as “The Voice Of The People” and broadcasted on the 23rdApril, 2014. The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mrs. D. Gisele Isaac-Arindell was invited by the host of the show to comment inter alia on two matters before the Court of Appeal touching and concerning National Elections at this time constitutionally due in Antigua and Barbuda, namely: (1) The Hon. Gaston Browne et al v. The Constituency Boundaries Commission and (2) Hon. Gaston Browne v. The Attorney General of Antigua and Barbuda and Juno Samuel et al (Members of the Antigua and Barbuda Electoral Commission under the Provisions of the Representation of The People (Amendment) Act No. 12 of 2011.
In her presentation, the Speaker clearly intimated that the Court of Appeal in deliberating on the above referenced cases did not address them with the urgency that the matters deserved, suggested that the Court of Appeal was not as competent or as efficient as the Law Lords of the Privy Council and strongly urged that there was something “coincidental” about the fact that the decisions in both cases were intended to be delivered on Monday April 28, 2014 after the Parliament had dissolved leading her to conclude that the appearance exists that some political objective was being met by the Court. She continued to posit that the Court’s conduct in handling both matters would necessarily lead to the loss of public trust in the Court as a constitutional arm of the State, and that its conduct of these matters rendered weak any argument for Antigua and Barbuda to become members of the Caribbean Court Of justice.
The Bar Council considers the statements of the Speaker of the House, which it views as being uttered in her public capacity as Speaker of the House, to be an open and unwarranted attack on the independence of the judiciary and an attempt to impair the administration of justice. What alarms the Council even more is that the attack has come from the titular head of one arm of the State (The Legislature) against the Court of Appeal. The Speaker of the House has violated the old aged principle that the Judiciary as an institution and also the individual judges deciding particular cases must be able to exercise their professional responsibilities without being influenced by the Executive, the Legislature or any other source. Only an independent Judiciary is able to render justice impartially on the basis of law, thereby also protecting and ensuring the human rights and fundamental freedoms of the individual and society in general. Neither the Speaker of the House, the Bar Council nor any other person or authority ought to ‘second guess’ the Court in respect of the matters deliberated by it and in respect of the length of time that it spends in arriving at a Judgement/decision.
Essentially, the public must have full confidence in the ability of the Judiciary to carry out its functions in this independent and impartial manner. What, unfortunately, the Speaker of the House of Representatives has sought to do is to erode the confidence of the public in the Court by raising an unfounded alarm as to the time it has taken to deliberate on the matters prior to rendering its decisions, and that politics must have surely been a motivating factor.
In a modern Constitutional State, the principle of an independent Judiciary has its origin in the theory of separation of powers, whereby the Executive, Legislature and Judiciary form three separate branches of government which, in particular, constitute a system of mutual checks and balances aimed at preventing abuses of power to the detriment of a free society. Whenever there is a concerted effort made to erode the independence of the Judiciary, neither the Judiciary as an institution nor individual judges will be able fully to perform this important task, nor at the very least will easily be seen to do so.
The Bar Council therefore condemns in the strongest terms the attack of the Speaker of the House on the Court of Appeal and views it as a regrettable, unfortunate and contumelious that the Speaker of the House was moved to conduct herself in this way.
The Bar Council and Bar Association of Antigua and Barbuda stand in support of the Court and all its judicial officers and most importantly affirm and pledge that they will uphold and vigorously defend the Rule of Law in Antigua and Barbuda.