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Chief Justice Ivor Archie

By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
January 24, 2008

As the fellars on the block would say, "Panday is real head!" Commenting on Ivor Archie's elevation to that of Chief Justice, Panday proclaimed that he had "advised the President that he should have advertised the post in the Caribbean and the Commonwealth so he could have had a wide pool from which he could have selected the best person." Strange as it may seem, that thought never occurred to Panday when President A. N. R. Robinson announced the appointment of Satnarine Sharma as the seventh Chief Justice of the republic.

In fact, he was so enamored with Chief Justice Sharma that his actions almost led to the undoing of Sharma's career. It left Sharma with a bloodied eye and a reprimand that stated he did not display "the balanced sensitivity and distance which should be the hallmarks of a senior judge." Lord Michael Mustill ruled negatively. He did not find sufficient evidence against Sharma to recommend that President Maxwell Richards refer the question of his removal from office to the Privy Council for a final decision.

It is sufficient to say that Chief Justice Sharma left office under a dark, demeaning, dismal cloud.

Enter Ivor Archie.

Evidence suggests that Chief Justice Ivor is a brilliant jurist and scholar. His beginnings are humble; his achievements laudable; his credentials impeccable. Born in Scarborough, Tobago to William and Moulda Beache, Ivor was schooled in the tenets of Anglicanism, Methodism and a dogged optimism. He was also nurtured by Bishop's High School that produced a disproportionate amount of outstanding scholars.

He learned much from his mother. She was a recipient of a scholarship provided by Dr. Sylvan Bowles, a Tobagonian dentist who did well in New York and someone who provided scholarships for outstanding Tobagonians including former President A. N. R. Robinson and Dr. Keith Rowley.

Ivor's mother's interest in history and his father's determination served as a fertile grounding for Archie's development. His aptitude for science and mathematics was such that he was awarded a Tesoro scholarship that allowed him to pursue mechanical engineering at the University of the West Indies.

However, law was his calling. After studying law at the University of Southampton he returned to the Caribbean where he distinguished himself in the Turks and Caicos Islands before moving to Cayman Islands. Thereafter he moved to Trinidad though an invitation of Chief Justice Michael de la Bastide to become a High Court Judge. After six years in the High Court, Ivor was elevated to serve as a judge in the Appellate Court. Yesterday, he received the highest honor of his career when he became the Chief Justice of the Republic.

With great honor come grave responsibilities. Chief Justice Sharma was also a brilliant jurist but he left his position under a cloud. So that brilliance is not all that is asked of a Chief Justice. He must also be of impeccable moral and ethical character and must do nothing to disgrace the office that has been entrusted to him. The Chief Justice is the third highest officer in the land. Moral rectitude is an important virtue for someone in this position.

This brings me to an interesting phenomenon. In his wisdom, the President decided that Ivor is of such mettle that he elevated him over four other High Court judges. I am not a stickler for seniority but when a President elevates a junior over his seniors he has an obligation to inform the public why he felt that his choice was superior to those he has passed over. The President is responsible to the public for his actions.

Justice Roger Hamel Smith served with distinction when he acted as Chief Justice. He is fifteen years Archie's senior, his rulings were respected by the Privy Council, and he displayed the necessary leadership and brought integrity to the office. By all accounts, he acquitted himself with dignity, acuity and probity.

The selection of the Chief Justice is the President's call. Yet, one wonders if it was not judicious to hear the views of the thirty judges in the High Court (including the acting judges). Section 102 of the Constitution states: "The Chief Justice shall be appointed by the President after consultation with the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition." It does not prevent him from consulting others persons and bodies who may assist in identifying the most suitable candidate. Even the Law Association ought to be consulted on such an important decision that affects the proper functioning of the Judiciary.

Although the United States must not always be held up as the model, the President's choice of Chief Justice is subjected always to the scrutiny of the Senate Judiciary Committee and the confirmation of the US Senate. It might be an example to follow.

While I congratulate Chief Justice Ivor, one is entitled to ask if we ought not to make our selection process more transparent. A society that trumpets the virtues of justice and meritocracy must face up to this question squarely. A sense of fairness should pervade everything that we do.

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