The Position of Attorney General

As this seems to be quite a topic of discussion I though that it deserved its own thread.

Up until the PLP’s election the position of Attorney General was appointed by the Governor (interestingly the last so appointed AG, Elliot Mottley, is closely associated with the Barbados Labour Party). One of the first actions of the new PLP government, prompted by Mr. Mottley’s resignation, was to reform the Attorney General and DPP to bring it in line with the England & Wales system (apparently the UK had been encouraging this as well?). The late Lois Browne-Evans became the first AG appointed under this reformed system.

If my memory serves me correctly, the UBP opposed the reforms to the AG chambers at the time, and have continued to be strongly opposed to what they consider the politicisation of the office. One of the main PLP defences of the current situation is that it brings it into line with pretty much every other state (for example the USA, England & Wales, Canada, etc.).

Not being a lawyer (although I did actually consider that avenue, along with journalism, before settling on biology) I’ve tended to steer clear of this issue. However, as I am currently living in the Scottish capital of Edinburgh, I’ve been exposed a little to the Scottish governments system, and I think there are a few ideas that we can adapt for Bermuda.

One of these is the construction of a new parliament. I’ve been fortunate enough to attend some meetings of the Scottish Parliament and take part in a presentation on local food production there, and I feel we would be better adapting aspects of the Scottish system rather than the Westminster system. The Scottish parliament is arranged in a hemicycle (semi-circle) as opposed to the Westminster confrontational style for instance. Also, the MSP’s desks in the chamber contain electronic consoles with which they are able to vote. There is also full reporting of parliamentary minutes and an advance notice of parliamentary business. I also feel we could adapt their greater emphasis on consensus decision making, as well as their 1700hrs ‘Decision Time’ system – in this all voting takes place at 1700hrs (with most of the discussion on the bill having taken place in the committee stages or during the day). The committee system in the Scottish Parliament is much stronger than in the Westminster system, giving a greater scope for backbench participation and cross party consensus. Also, the election of MSP’s through a mixed member proportional representation system could be adapted for Bermuda (see also this from Wikipedia).

Personally, while I love the architecture of the House of Assembly, and there is certainly a good sense of history in the existing parliamentary chamber, I do think its about time we constructed a new parliament. Perhaps the coming transfer of the Supreme Court across the road will provide the opportunity to renovate the present site just for these reforms?

Anyway, back to the question of the Attorney General. In the run-up to the 2007 election the SNP called for the ‘de-politicising’ of the post, and on their election made good on this. The AG continues to sit in Parliament as well as the Cabinet (but is not necessarily an MSP, and if not, can speak on issues but may not vote). While the situation is still developing (as I understand it), it is likely the Lord Advocate (the Scottish AG) will be have more powers ceded to the DPP equivalent, and as such the Lord Advocate would be restricted more to giving advice on legal matters to the government. The ‘Calman Commission’ of the Scottish Judiciary has prepared a report on reforming the Lord Advocate position, and while not all of it is applicable, I don’t see any harm in Bermuda seeking inspiration on this matter from it.

I also do not think we need to restrict ourselves to the various UK systems – the Indian Attorney General model may also be applicable (with adaptation) for Bermuda. Singapore may also be a possible source of inspiration.

Any ideas?

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