It was a pleasant surprise to hear at least two members of the legal fraternity raises some concern over the resignation last week of The Honourable Mr Justice Richard Floyd, effective April 15.
Former Bar Association President Hugh Marshall Jr and the Honourable Steadroy “Cutie” Benjamin MP both chimed in to record their regrets and surprise that Justice Floyd was leaving.
As far as we are aware, there have been no on-the-record comments from others in the legal profession and, most notably, no press release or other communication from the local Bar Association.
Nor have we heard anything from the Honourable Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs whose ministry is directly responsible for the operation and maintenance of our court system.
It is almost as if the authorities feel that Justice Floyd’s resignation is a non-event from which we can learn nothing.
From what we can gather, Justice Floyd was a respected member of the bench. “Cutie” Benjamin has noted that the judge worked assiduously to formalize the pilot project of creating a criminal division in the High Court in Antigua & Barbuda, where one judge would preside over the criminal cases, instead of rotating between the three judges on the bench.
This process is incomplete but by and large, there has been no outcry about the handling of the criminal assizes and even less about the state of our judiciary as it stumbles from crisis to crisis. Now there are only two judges available.
Some attorneys have commented unofficially that one reason for Justice Floyd’s departure might be the large number of cases which judges are expected to handle every quarter. Their comments, however, have lost much of their value as they have insisted on anonymity.
Hugh Marshall Jr hit upon what is probably a major factor in the judge’s resignation. That is the chaotic nature of the legal infrastructure in the country.
For months, the High Court building has been out of service due to air conditioning and other problems. As a result, court sessions have been constantly shifting between makeshift facilities.
We have no information about the judge’s personal accommodation but would not be surprised if he was experiencing similar problems there.
It is therefore no surprise that the judiciary has trouble in retaining the services of highly qualified individuals.
Justice Floyd came to us with excellent credentials, having worked for the Crown in his native Canada and with Commonwealth experience, notably in Australia.
His most valuable credential to us could have been, as Hugh Marshall Jr put it, “his desire to make a contribution to the Eastern Caribbean.”
Whatever his motivation and plans, it is clear that the judge has had enough. One does not resign suddenly from a position such as High Court judge unless conditions overwhelm you, including health or other personal matters.
There is no indication that any of the latter apply in the judge’s case so it seems clear that his working conditions became unbearable.
Meanwhile, the legal profession just suffers the indignities of a degraded judicial system, largely in silence and with little apparent concern for solving the many problems.
Nowhere is there a call for a united front to implement the reforms necessary for the smooth running of our courts. This is not a simple matter which can be ignored and people asked to grin and bear it.
The judiciary touches just about every aspect of our lives, from the criminal law and order necessary for our security, to the business contracts that, to a large extent, decide the quality of our lives. These are not trivial matters.
Reports of disorganisation and confusion in our legal system have been around for many years. None of our leading lights anywhere in the Eastern Caribbean seems inclined or committed to tackle the problems at the crucial levels of the Magistrate Court, High Court and Court of Appeal.
Instead we are wasting valuable time, effort and money trying to replace the valuable English Privy Council as our final Court of Appeal.
It is not that we should not aim to have our own final court of appeal but we feel that it is far more sensible to get our metaphorical foundations right before trying to erect a skyscraper.
Here is our suggestion to tackle the problem. Negotiate with Justice Floyd to carry out an inquiry and to recommend changes to the organisation and management of our Eastern Caribbean judicial system. With his independent views and personal experience he seems just the man for the job.
Better still, make it a two-man inquiry. The Honourable Mr Justice Hugh Rawlins, Chief Justice of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court, gave notice of his resignation two months ago.
The two men should have valuable insights into what ails our judiciary and what measures should be implemented to ensure that our judicial system attracts and retains the services of highly qualified and sane individuals.