In the past two weeks, THE NEW TODAY has been reporting on a matter that should be of grave concern to the Public – the attempt by government to give Queen’s Counsel status to private lawyers outside of the protocol set down by the Chief Justice of the OECS Supreme Court.
This vulgar attempt by the government sends a clear message that the administration is prepared to violate the well-established tenets of the Constitution about the separation of powers.
It is a given that the Executive ought not to impose its will on the Judiciary, as well as the Legislative arm of government.
The Judiciary has put into writing a protocol for lawyers in the private bar to follow in order to be considered for QC ranking in the jurisdiction.
A critical aspect of the protocol is the following:
“The award of Queen’s Counsel is for excellence made to experienced, senior practitioners who have demonstrated their competencies to a standard of excellence”.
The protocol went on to say the following:
The qualities required to a high degree before appointment as Queen’s Counsel include: Learning: Queen’s Counsel must be learned in the law so as to provide sound guidance and to assist in judicial interpretation and development of the law”.
The intention of the CJ is to ensure that only the best of the best should be bestowed with QC status in order to separate the goats from the sheep in the legal profession.
It is our understanding that over the years a number of persons became QCs based on an unwritten convention.
However, it was felt that too many lawyers who were not worthy to be ever considered for “silk” were applying for the status and needed to be put in their place.
The then Chief Justice, Hugh Rawlins spearheaded a consultative process involving lawyers and Bar Associations in the respective territories to come up with a protocol that would guide lawyers in making applications to become a QC.
This protocol did not exclude lawyers in public service such as the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Attorney-General or Solicitor General from being elevated among the ranks of QCs.
It should be noted that several lawyers who became the Attorney-General in their jurisdictions were conferred with the status of QC in their capacity as Chief Legal Advisor to the government.
However, the government-of-the-day never crossed the line by making incursions into the private bar and single-handedly pulling out specific lawyers and making them QC.
This newspaper holds the view that the attempt and manner of approach by the Mitchell-led New National Party (NNP) government to award QC status to Derek Sylvester and Ruggles Ferguson is seeking to create its own pathway to elevate lawyers in private practice.
A clear message is being sent to members of the legal profession in private practice that there is another route to take you to QC status and that is by doing business with me.
This is chilling and quite frightening. How can an ordinary member of the public trust a lawyer who might be prepared to “sell” his/her case before the court involving the government because a QC is at stake?
Will a Prime Minister who is prepared to interfere with due process not try to lure lawyers with the offer of a QC at the expense of their clients and to leave them naked and totally exposed before a court of law?
The Chief Justice has taken steps to put a system in place for lawyers to follow in order to govern the affairs of members of the legal profession and that should not be tampered with for ulterior motives.
The Sylvester/Ferguson QC issue can be interpreted as a challenge to the Judiciary that the State has the power to set up its own guidelines to award lawyers in private practice with “The Silk” and not only the CJ.
Equally important is the question of what criteria is being used by a Prime Minister to identify lawyers for QC status?
The Prime Minister is not an officer of the court and is also lacking in the necessary qualifications to be a barrister-at-law to truly recommend any legal practitioner for QC status.
The country really needs constitutional reform to curb the influence of the Prime Minister and to limit the office holder to only that which is endowed to him and nothing more.
It is not unusual in the Caribbean for a Prime Minister to step outside bounds and abuse power given a timid and weak civil service in place in which many Permanent Secretaries are willing to facilitate wrong-doing in order to preserve their jobs.
At least Mr. Ferguson seemed inclined not to fall for a government QC if the protocol being used by the regime excludes the Chief Justice and also the system already in place to confer QC status on lawyers in private practice.
This newspaper hopes that good sense with prevail and that Mr. Sylvester will follow suit and send a message to government that the protocol that is already in place by the CJ should be followed and not violated.