Sunday 25 August, 2019

Bar Association to Holness: fully appoint Sykes as Chief Justice

Justice Bryan Sykes takes the Oath of Office during a ceremony at King’s House on February 1, after being appointed to act as Chief Justice. Governor General Sir Patrick Allen looks on. (PHOTO: JIS)

Justice Bryan Sykes takes the Oath of Office during a ceremony at King’s House on February 1, after being appointed to act as Chief Justice. Governor General Sir Patrick Allen looks on. (PHOTO: JIS)

Jamaican Bar Association (Jambar) has called on Prime Minister Andrew Holness to fully appoint Justice Bryan Sykes as Chief Justice, describing as flawed Government's decision to appoint Sykes to act in the position "until further advised".

Jacqueline Cummings Gordon, president of Jambar, while acknowledging that the Prime Minister has the constitutional authority to appoint an acting Chief Justice, is questioning the propriety of doing so when there is a clear vacancy.

Furthermore, Cummings said, the public statement by Holness that, "action that brings results will determine the assumption (of Justice Sykes) in the role of Chief Justice", trespasses on the Chief Justice's autonomy.

“Although judges are paid from the public purse, no judge serves or must be seen to serve at the pleasure of the Government.  It is that issue that the Honourable Prime Minister has brought sharply into focus by causing Chief Justice Sykes to now wonder about his tenure,” Cummings said in a statement issued to the media.

Holness... We want to see an improvement and strengthening in the rule of law.

“Will he be removed from office if he writes a judgment that does not favour the Government?  Will the new Chief Justice be subject to a performance evaluation after three months in office?” she asked.

The Jambar president said the issue underscores the need for a comprehensive review of the process for judicial appointment as a matter of urgency.

“But more urgently, the Prime Minister ought to review his decision and appoint the Honourable Mr Justice Sykes as Chief Justice with the full authority and tenure afforded to that office,” said Cummings.

It is the latest of growing calls for the Holness administration to fully appoint Sykes to the role.

National Integrity Action (NIA) and the Opposition People's National Party (PNP) are among the groups which have criticized the Government’s move.

But, in response to his detractors, a defiant Holness, reportedly said: “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.”

Holness refuted claims that he was interfering with the independence of the judiciary, arguing that the judiciary is also accountable to how taxpayers funds are spent.

“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,” he said.

Sykes was appointed to act as Chief Justice to replace Justice Zaila McCalla, who retired on January 31.

 

See full statement by the Bar Association below.

 

Recently, the Jamaican Bar Association ("Jambar") wrote to the Honourable Prime Minister and requested that he advertise the post of Chief Justice so that all qualified persons would have an opportunity to apply for the job.  We are yet to receive the promised response to that letter; but the spotlight on the process used for judicial appointments has broadened since the appointment the Honourable Mr. Justice Bryan Sykes to act as Chief Justice "until further advised".

Jambar wholly supports the Prime Minister's selection of Justice Sykes as Chief Justice as he is intellectually sound and has a proven ability to dispense justice in a timely manner.

Although separate, the two issues underscore the need for a comprehensive review of the process for judicial appointment as a matter of urgency, but we will first focus on the flaws inherent in appointing an acting Chief Justice

One of the critical underpinnings of the Rule of Law is the separation of powers.  It is that separation that engenders the public's confidence in, and respect for the justice system; so that the court is beyond the reach of the executive and the political directorate.

Although judges are paid from the public purse, no judge serves or must be seen to serve at the pleasure of the Government.  It is that issue that the Honourable Prime Minister has brought sharply into focus by causing Chief Justice Sykes to now wonder about his tenure.  Will he be removed from office if he writes a judgment that does not favour the Government?  Will the new Chief Justice be subject to a performance evaluation after three months in office?

While Jambar acknowledges that the Prime Minister has the constitutional authority to appoint an acting Chief Justice, we question the propriety of doing so when there is a clear vacancy.  Further, the public statement by the Prime Minister that, "action that brings results will determine the assumption [of Justice Sykes] in the role of Chief Justice" trespasses on the Chief Justice's autonomy.

It is time for revision of the process for judicial appointments at all levels, but more urgently the Prime Minister ought to review his decision and appoint the Honourable Mr. Justice Sykes as Chief Justice with the full authority and tenure afforded to that office.

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