The Chief Justice delivered his ruling on the situation at a ceremony held at President’s House, St Ann’s for the appointment of a Justice of Appeal Judith Jones and Justice Eleanor Donaldson- Honeywell. He responded to reported criticisms of the process by which judges are elevated and appointed made in a series of press reports over the weekend.
In the reports, unnamed judicial sources had stated Archie had once said persons would be appointed using the criteria of seniority, yet senior judges had been overlooked in Jones’s favor. The sources also called for a more transparent process by which the Judicial and Legal Service Commission performs its function of making judicial appointments.
But armed with prepared notes, Archie yesterday took the unprecedented step of detailing the process used by the secretive JLSC — which he chairs ex-officio — in coming to its decision to elevate Jones to the Court of Appeal, which is the highest arm of the Supreme Court.
“I am very grateful that the very impressive curriculum vitae of these two ladies have been read into the public record because it has caused me some disquiet that we have seen some publications in the media over the last couple of days,” Archie said in his remarks delivered at the ceremony. “I am sure that the representatives of the print and electronic media who are here present would want to ensure that they do not allow themselves to become the unwitting proxy of one or two disgruntled malcontents. At the very least it is important that we get the facts straight concerning public appointments and particularly appointments to judicial office because so much depends in our nation — at a time when so many things seem to be falling apart — on our being able to repose confidence in our institutions and the persons who populate them.”
Archie denied ever saying all promotions were to be made on the basis of length of service.
“Elevation is not a long-service award or an entitlement that is accessible by the mere effluxion of time,” said the Chief Justice. “It is an honour which is earned and in the case of Madam Justice Jones very richly deserved.”
Archie continued, “It is not true to say - as has been reported - that it is position of the JLSC, my position, or the position that I have ever told anyone, that so far as the elevation of judges to the Court of Appeal is concerned, seniority would be the basis for promotion. In an institution that is governed by merit, seniority is not and cannot be a governing criteria for elevation except in the minds of those who may be overly concerned with status.”
Archie continued, “If your notion of being bypassed is based on a misunderstanding of what the JLSC is about, first of all may I say that the job of a senior trial judge is no less important that that of any single appellate judge. It is simply a different role.”
“Secondly, at any given time, the JLSC is looking for a particular balance and a combination of skills and aptitude in the Court of Appeal because we are a collegiate decision-making body and so we are always in search of the best fit and I am sure you will agree that Madam Justice Jones by virtue of her extensive resume which we have heard is a proper fit for the Court of Appeal,” said the Chief Justice. “We are in search for the best, bearing in mind that the strengthening of the appellate bench also involves a commensurate weakening of the trial bench so that being elevated at any particular point in time does not mean that those who were not elevated were unsuitable. This is not new.” Archie noted his own appointment was a demonstration that seniority was not the main factor.
“When I was elevated to the Court of Appeal 13 years ago, there were nine people senior to me, most of whom are now on the Court of Appeal,” the Chief Justice said. “I commend those senior judges who have distanced themselves from the melee in the media and have accepted the decision with the maturity and grace that some do not seem to have been able to muster. One understands the sense of personal disappointment that they may experience, but so far as any expectation that they may be entertained solely on the basis of seniority, they have no juridical legitimacy. I do not wish to comment on the work or merits of individual judges.”
The chairman of the JLSC also for the first time laid bare the process by which the body came to its decision to elevate Jones to the Court of Appeal.
“In the elevation of Madam Justice Jones, there has been a detailed process of consultation and all who were eligible have been considered,” the Chief Justice said. “Firstly, appellate judges were canvassed as to their assessment of the temperament, writing ability, overall suitability and team spirit, after all we see the quality of the work of the trial judges.”
Further, “Every member of the JLSC was supplied with several samples of written opinion work to assess not just the judge’s output, but the maturity, scholarship, clarity and potential to be a sound appellate opinion writers not just in areas of specialisation but across the broad range of matters that are likely to come before the appellate court.”
Also, “the Bar was canvassed via the President of the Law Association who was invited to seek the view of the senior practitioners who appear before the court and to submit three names, bearing in mind that they were finding a replacement for Madam Justice of Appeal Rajnauth-Lee, who had been elevated to the Caribbean Court of Justice, who was primarily a civil judge. In that regard, I am pleased to say that Madam Justice Jones received the strongest endorsement from the Bar of all the names.”
Said Archie, “So I am very confident that the decision that the JLSC has made is the correct one and that she will bring a wealth of experience and she will add value to the Court of Appeal’s operations.”
The Chief Justice said it was not the JLSC’s job to please those with different opinions.
“In addition, although it is not an overriding factor, as we have heard, Justice of Appeal Jones contributes to the overall strengthening of the Judiciary through her work on committees and by providing leadership in judicial education,” the Chief Justice said. “And so I stress that at this time, the JLSC is of the view that she is the best fit. I realise that others may have a different opinion, but our job is not to please them.”
Said Archie, “What is this about a lack of transparency? Who else are we to ask that is qualified to assess the performance and potential of prospective appointees? It does a disservice to a very good and committed judicial officer and a JLSC that is striving to do the best job that it can.”