Sunday 17 February, 2019

Judges 'regret inconvenience' after shutting down courts

The island’s judges on Monday apologised for shutting down the court system while confirming that their decision to stay off the bench was in large part influenced by the decision of Prime Minister Andrew Holness to appoint Justice Bryan Sykes to act as Chief Justice despite a clear vacancy.

Subsequent statements made by Holness to justify the acting appointment had been taken by the judges as meddling in the affairs of the judiciary, in breach of the longstanding principle of separation of powers.

Their protest Monday all but halted proceedings in the supreme, appellate and parish courts as 97 of them met in downtown Kingston to voice their concerns about the appointment of the chief justice and other issues.

“The nation’s judges recognise and deeply regret the inconvenience to litigants, attorneys and members of the public across the island, caused by Monday’s meeting in Kingston,” said a statement issued on behalf of the judges.

Holness had insisted that Justice Sykes would have to prove himself during a period of probation before he could be confirmed in the post. Despite mounting and widespread criticism, the Prime Minister had stuck to his guns for nearly two weeks arguing that he was of a different generation with a different way of thinking.

However, his position appeared to be softening over the weekend when Justice Minister Delroy Chuck intimated that there could be an announcement early this week regarding the Chief Justice. And by Monday evening, news had emerged that Sykes would be confirmed as Chef Justice during the course of the week.

On Monday, Holness refused to take questions from journalists outside the Pembroke Hall community centre in North West St Andrew where the Jamaica Labour Party’s candidate for the March 5 by-election, Dr Nigel Clarke was nominated. A member of his security detail held onto the microphone of a Television Jamaica reporter, allowing the Prime Minister to leave the scene without taking questions on the action taken by judges.

Meanwhile, the judges are giving the assurance that they remain committed to the upholding of justice.

According to the Court Management Services (CMS), "not all court matters were affected.”

It said “some matters were heard in the Home Circuit Court and the Gun Court. Most matters scheduled for the afternoon session, at the Supreme Court proceeded as scheduled. Cases that were scheduled to be heard in the Parish Courts today were adjourned for the day, and all court matters will resume tomorrow (today) Tuesday February 13, 2018.”

The CMS said the judiciary has apologised to the members of the legal fraternity, witnesses, jurors, members of the public and other stakeholders for the inconvenience caused and the loss of time in a sector that is already burdened by huge case backlogs.

The CMS said that it would undertake "a number of measures in an effort to address the time lost."

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