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JAMAICA | Holness firm on CJ's acting appointment but legal pressure mounts

Featured Prime Minister Andrew Holness under fire for issuing an acting rather than a permanent appointment for Justice Brian Sykes in the office of Chief Justice. Prime Minister Andrew Holness under fire for issuing an acting rather than a permanent appointment for Justice Brian Sykes in the office of Chief Justice.
KINGSTON, February 4, 2018 - Despite Prime Minister Andrew Holness vigourously defence of his decision to appoint the country's new chief justice in an acting role, declaring that he was from a different age and his way of thinking may not always coincide with those who hold traditional views, pressure consinues to mount, particularly from the legal profession questioning the wisdom of his action.
Justice Sykes was appointed on Thursday to act in the post following the retirement of Chief Justice Zaila McCalla.
However, the decision to not appoint Justice Skyes permanently in the post has been heavily criticised by a wide range of persons and institutions including the Jamaica Bar Association.

"I was encouraged by the very people who are critical now to take an unconventional view. I followed that view," said Holness at a press briefing on Friday following a tour of the zone of special operations in the Denham Town area along with a delegation from the European Union.

"I interviewed after having gone through a process of shortlisting the chief justice. I have never met the person who I've selected as the chief justice. I've never had the opportunity to have a conversation with him, I can safely say. I do not know him. I selected someone based upon what is presented on paper as his resume and what I've researched as his work and what I have consulted with his peers. It is indeed a break from the traditional and conventional way in which this was done. I am certain that the chief justice understands that I am a person who believes in systems of accountability,"  Holness declared.

On Thursday, Holness said  he was “confident that Justice Sykes will act in the role of Chief Justice and very soon will fully assume the role of Chief Justice.” Mr. Holness  added that “actions that bring result, will determine the assumption”.

Holness quickly came under fire from the Opposition People's National Party, which said the move to have the Chief Justice act in the position prior to confirmation, does not guarantee the independence of the Judiciary from the Executive arm of Government as prescribed by the Constitution.

At a press conference, held at the Leader of the Opposition's offices in St Andrew, PNP Leader Dr. Peter Phillips disclosed that he cautioned the Prime Minister  by advising that it was wholly unacceptable that the fundamental principle of the Constitution would be impaired by Sykes' lack of settled authority.

"I was consulted by the prime minister on the appointment of the chief justice and concurred with the appointment of Justice Sykes. However, when I learnt of the temporary nature of the appointment for the chief justice, I objected and cautioned the prime minister," said Phillips.

Opposition Spokesperson on Justice Donna Scott-Motley also weighed in on the matter noting that the circumstances surrounding the appointment were undesirable.

"Let me remind you that he (Holness) spoke to the rule of law. He spoke to the separation of powers, which is so important because it is a commitment not to interfere politically with the judiciary. It signals respect for the different arms. He spoke about the characteristics of Justice Sykes. He lauded him and then he was placed on probation? Anyone would get disturbed by that," she said.

"In a democracy, these things are undesirable, and it is deeply regretted. In fact, it is untenable that any chief justice will have to be submitted to this level of humiliation. That is why we are calling on the prime minister to address this error," Scott-Mottley declared.

In a Letter to The Editor of The Gleaner, Jamaica-born international jurist Patrick Robinson, who serve as a judge at the International Court of Justice in Hague, Netherlands, said: "The practice of appointing persons to act as judges of the Supreme Court is bad enough, but the appointment of a person to act as the chief judge until the governor general is 'further advised' is wholly unacceptable."

However, Holness maintains that he has no intention of interfering with the independence of the judiciary, arguing that there has to be accountability for the use of taxpayers' funds.

"We want to see an improvement and strengthening in the rule of law and timely justice outcomes, and the chief justice will be accountable for this. I can't be any clearer. Those who want to criticise have the luxury of doing it. I have the luxury of running a country and being accountable to the taxpayers for the results of the systems that we are elected to run," explained Holness.

But in her Sunday Gleaner column, Attorney at law, Queens Counsel Valrie Neita Robertson, indicated that the Privy Council had in 1976 ruled on the need for the Judiciary to be totally independent from the Executive and parliamentary arms of government.

She pointed to the ruling of the UK Privy Council which spoke directly to the matter: "In the Privy Council decision of Hinds v The Queen 1976 1 All ER 353, the independence of the judiciary as stated by the Jamaican Constitution was highlighted. Their lordships stated: "... Those who hold any salaried judicial office in Jamaica shall be appointed on the recommendation from the Judicial Service Commission and that their independence from political pressure from Parliament or by the executive in exercise of their judicial functions shall be assured by granting them such degree of security of tenure in their office as is justified by the importance of the jurisdiction that they exercise."

Last modified onSunday, 04 February 2018 10:11
  • Countries: Jamaica

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