Justice Thomas: Chief Justice Hugh Rawlins, like Sir Hugh Wooding is a Protector of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms

Resident Judge of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court, Mr. Justice Errol Thomas (left) shakes the hand of retiring Nevisian-born Chief Justice Mr. Justice Hugh Rawlins after the Farewell ceremony. (Willet’s Photo)

BASSETERRE, ST. KITTS, MARCH 22ND 2012 (CUOPM) -Resident Judge, His Lordship Mr. Justice Errol Thomas has hailed outgoing Chief Justice of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court, His Lordship Justice Hugh Rawlins as a protector of the Fundamental Rights and Freedoms.

“His Lordship Chief Justice Hugh Wooding in one of his insightful Judgments on Fundamental Rights and Freedoms made the astute observation that individual freedom in any society is never absolute. No person in an ordered society can be free to do as he likes. For the protection of his own freedom, everyone must pay due regard to the conflicting rights and freedoms of others. If not, freedom will become lawless and end in anarchy. Thus was the enunciation of one of the region’s most revered jurists. Chief Justice Hugh Rawlins has followed this tradition; indeed, it cannot be a mere coincidence that both of these esteemed men were given the same names. Jurisprudence demanded it. It was preordained,” said Justice Thomas at the recent farewell sitting for Justice Rawlins.

Justice Thomas noted: “In his Judgment in Chief of Police and Another v Nias, the Chief Justice Rawlins gave the leading Judgment. It concerned an appeal in which the Respondent was charged in the Magistrate’s Court with the offence of using obscene language to a woman in a public place contrary to the provisions of the Small Charges Act of St. Kitts. The Learned Chief Justice ruled that section 8 (a) of the Small Charges Act was not unconstitutional as it was protected by the provisions of section 12 (2) of the Constitution being a Law that was reasonably required in the interest of public morality. The Lordship went on to give a definition of public morality for all times. For him, it encompassed “those normative values of a society which reflected the principles and normal standards which formed the society’s code of good conduct, which values were generally accepted and adhered to by the society.”

“Following the General Election in Antigua and Barbuda in 2009 certain election petitions were filed and in the High Court it was ruled that election of the Prime Minister and two other Ministers were nullities by virtue of irregularities on Election Day. In the interim the Prime Minister was even accused of squatting in office,” said Justice Thomas, adding:

“Predictably, the matter went on appeal and the status quo was restored. It was a moment, not unexpectedly, of high tension but the outcome was a Judgment of class and distinction. Not a man murmured when Chief Justice Rawlins in delivering the 103 page Judgment of the Court ruled that it would be remiss of the Court to invalidate an election where the breach of standard elections procedure was trivial.”

He reasoned in part that “there must be such a substandard departure from elections procedure stipulated by law that would cause an ordinary person to condemn the election as a sham or travesty. A considerable departure is required.”

You would of course appreciate that His Lordship had to deal with numerous submissions and tons of cases in the course of the Judgment.”

He told other Appeal Court Judges on the bench for the Special Sitting as well as His Excellency the Governor General, Dr. Sir Cuthbert Sebastian; The Rt. Hon. Dr. Denzil Llewellyn Douglas, Prime Minister; Hon. Sam Condor, Deputy Prime Minister; Hon. Curtis Martin, Speaker of the National Assembly; Premier of Nevis, the Hon. Joseph Parry as well as Members of the Federal and Nevis Island Administration Cabinet and the Federal Parliament and the Nevis Island Assembly that the Nevisian-born outgoing Chief Justice moved through the ranks of the Court from Master, High Court Judge, Justice of Appeal and ultimately Chief Justice.

“But over the years he has been a keen advocate for the establishment of an indigenous final Appellate Court for the region and for the independence of the judiciary. This is evidenced by several papers produced on the topic,” said Justice Thomas, pointing out:

“In one such publication he stated this: ‘any idea of judicial independence must encompass considerations which are wider than mere taking of a firm stand against the State. It must be even more widely embracing than the constitutional provisions for the appointment, tenure, remuneration or the removal from office of Judges. It must include a fair-holding balance between the State and the individual, doing justice to all men; and, while not necessarily living in aloof isolation from the society, living above influence and patronage from any source whatsoever.’

“His Lordship advocated high principles for all and he lived by them,” said Justice Thomas.

He further noted that in a Book titled The Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court – Model Regional Court, the Author Dr. Francis Alexis deals with the appointment of two Justices of Appeal in 2005 – Justice Denys Barrow and Mr. Justice Hugh Rawlins.

“And in describing the academic, legal and judicial achievements of the latter he writes this: ‘Mr. Justice Rawlins of St. Kitts and Nevis was the other. Mr. Justice Rawlins was lecturing in law at the University of the West Indies, Faculty of Law, Cave Hill Campus, Barbados, after serving as Solicitor General of St. Kitts and Nevis.

Mr. Justice Rawlins renders Judgments on diverse subjects such as separation of powers, locus standi and costs in public law, the principles on which a Court of Appeal may interfere with findings of fact made by a trial Judge, and the circumstances in which a receipt clause in a deed may be challenged”.

Justice Thomas added: “Our Court is now 45 years old and Hugh Anthony Rawlins is one part of the team who kept the torch lit – a stalwart and the Courts’ third Chief Justice from St. Kitts and Nevis. He is a fine jurist. He performed his office at all levels with dignity, passion and high intellect. His continuing record of service and achievements will stand to inspire young attorneys and standard bearers alike.”

He stated that he does not know what Justice Rawlins has planned because it is said that attorneys never retire.

“In fact, a Judge who sat on the Court of Appeal in a certain Caribbean jurisdiction only retired at 83 because of certain circumstances and events beyond his control. Whatever it may be Sir, I wish you all the best and I know you will give it your best. May it please you My Lord,” Justice Thomas concluded.

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