The Price of Liberty

First Published: 2004-06-19

The periodic rumblings within the Justice System developed into a “roar” this week. According to a ZNS report the President of the Appeals Court, Joan Sawyer cast doubts on the objectivity of another judge in the extradition case of alleged drug dealer Austen Knowles. Justice Sawyer recommended that Jeanne Thompson excuse herself from the proceedings on the grounds that she “is not able to be objective”.

For those outside the legal system it is disturbing to hear one judge publicly accuse another of “not being objective”. An impartial judiciary is critical to the preservation of civil society and such a declaration risks undermining public trust in the administration of the law.

The rules for public order within the justice system obviously do not preclude differences among the judiciary on matters pertaining to the law. However public criticism by one judge of another on the basis of her capacity for objectivity seems out of place. Handling it internally would have spared public embarrassment for both judges.

It is a delicate issue when the center of the controversy is an alleged drug trafficker indicted for crimes in the US but has not been convicted of any drug offence in this jurisdiction.

To an outsider there appears to be an issue as to whether the Extradition Act removes all rights under Habeas Corpus and the Bail Act of the Bahamas. How do the laws relating to extradition interact with these rights? Throughout the Nineties the Bahamas came under fire for not fulfilling its obligations under the 1992 Mutual Legal Assistance Act. Hundreds of cases for extradition were not being dealt with to the satisfaction of the United States. This was thought to have been one factor leading to U.S. & OECD pressures that resulted in blacklisting and the eleven Financial Bills of December 2000.

The Bahamas Bar Association as a professional body has a role in improving on the administration of justice, promoting and supporting law reform. This single issue is an opportunity for some objective commentary from uninvolved, but knowledgeable experts.

In addition to the issues of civility and trust in the courts, professional bodies play an important part in the preservation of independent courts free from political and other undue influence.

Thus far the deafening silences on these matters from the Bar Association members over whelm the “roars” from the courthouse.

The truth in the statement by Thomas Jefferson that, “The price of liberty is eternal vigilance” is irrefutable. We add our observation that liberty cannot be preserved by silence.

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