A.R. Carnegie, 74, Caribbean Legal Legend

By: Caribbean Journal Staff - February 28, 2011

A Caribbean Journal Editorial

He was never a judge, never a Queen’s Counsel. His robes were never silk. But A. Ralph Carnegie was a Caribbean John Marshall if there ever was one.

Ralph Carnegie, A.R. in scholarly texts, passed away last month at the age of 74, living a life in the law that has been matched by few in the Commonwealth.

It was he, a longtime professor of law at Cave Hill in Barbados, who predicted – and saw — long before it would ever happen, that the constitutions of the Commonwealth Caribbean had more power, and more authority than anyone had conceived.

In his seminal article, Judicial Review of Legislation in the West Indian Constitutions,” (1971), Carnegie discussed how so-called Westminster model constitutions – -that is, the constitutions of the English-speaking Caribbean that flowed onto paper from the unwritten British constitution, were within the jurisdiction of the judiciary.

Like John Marshall, the United States’ first Chief Justice, who ruled in Marbury v. Madison in 1803 that the United States Supreme Court had the power to review legislation and acts for their constitutionality more than two hundred years before, Carnegie had a vision – of Caribbean courts using the constitution to keep legislation within the rule of law and tradition.

Just six years after he wrote his article, the Privy Council, in Moses Hinds v. The Queen [1977] A.C. 195 overturned a portion of Jamaica’s new Gun Court statute (which created a separate court exclusively for gun-related offences) for being unconstitutional – doing just what Carnegie had predicted and sending shock waves through Caribbean jurisprudence. It was Hinds that paved the way for examples like in 2008 in Nassau, where Article 40 of the Bahamian Constitution, which holds that the Prime Minister shall have as his purpose, in appointing certain Senators, to secure the political balance of the senate in order that it reflect the House of Assembly. A ruling by the Supreme Court of the Bahamas, on constitutional grounds, found a Senator’s appointment to be invalid.

These rulings, in which courts may use the Constitution as a mirror against which to hold up Parliamentary acts, are part of the legacy of Professor Carnegie.

Of course, Carnegie was far more than just an author.

He was a 40-year Professor, eventually Emeritus at Cave Hill in Barbados and among the founding professors of the Law School. Notably, he was a Rhodes Scholar at Jesus College at Oxford, where he earned first class honours.

But if he should be remembered for anything – beyond his outstanding achievements and the body of his scholarship – it should be for this vision – of a Caribbean of fundamental principles; a Caribbean where constitutions on the Westminster model steadied the rule of law; and a Caribbean where the primacy of the Constitution, and the power of judicial review, should be robust.


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