Letters to the Editor

Chief justice brouhaha proves the blind leading the blind

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

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Dear Editor,

The public discourse taking place on Prime Minister Andrew Holness's appointment of Justice Bryan Sykes in the capacity of acting chief justice is not just interesting, but laughable. Even more curious, if not disappointing, is the fact that Attorney General Marlene Malahoo Forte relentlessly defended the misguided decision of the prime minister on Television Jamaica's All Angles, broadcast on February 7, 2018. Far more shocking were the reports of a judges' meeting over the appointment. The action of those who have engaged in any such discussion indicates a certain level of intellectual deficiency in the handling of the law, especially those who have spent tireless hours and money to acquire letters in the profession.

Section 32 of the Jamaican Constitution establishes the responsibility of the governor general in appointing the prime minister, leader of Opposition, Cabinet ministers, members of the Senate, the chief justice, and other members of the judiciary. In the case of the chief justice, the governor general carries out the appointment while taking into consideration the advice of the prime minister and leader of Opposition. So, while Jamaica is still a part of the British Commonwealth, and has as its head of State a governor general representing The Queen, the final authority to appoint a chief justice rests with governor general as the overseer of the governance of this country — judiciary, executive, legislative.

It is, therefore, the constitutional prerogative of Jamaica's governor general, Sir Patrick Allen, to reject or act upon the recommendations of Prime Minister Holness, in consultation with legal counsel assigned to his office, to appoint outright Justice Sykes as head of the judiciary, or consider another equally competent candidate.

Since this is so, the discussion, then, should not be why the prime minister appointed Sykes as acting chief justice, but rather why Sir Patrick accepted the advice of Holness by following through to do same, even when he had the authority to do otherwise.

What is clear is that the 97 judges who disrupted the justice system in protest against the acting appointment of Sykes, and to let on as if this was solely the doing of Prime Minister Holness, clearly missed the forest for the trees. Their inept response is not just embarrassing, but sufficient proof that it's time for some, if not all, to give up the benches on which they sit. Maybe the justice system would improve if they were to relieve themselves of their duties.

Further, it is evidence as to why, for so long, Jamaica's economy has not truly grown — the people who are supposed to know really don't, and instead major in the minors.

Note, too, that Opposition Leader Dr Peter Phillips cannot wash his hands of the actions of the governor general. Since Section 32 of the constitution grants him privilege to proffer a recommendation as to who becomes chief justice, he also had a role to play, and should have been duly informed that the appointment of Justice Sykes, by virtue of the word 'acting', would be temporary. As such he cannot and should not play the hypocrite by absolving himself while criticising Holness on the sidelines.

It may be timely to remind Dr Phillips that while he may blame the Government for the ills that befall our island, that the People's National Party — with its elected Members of Parliament and appointed senators — also forms Government. If Dr Phillips is serious about contending for the office of the prime minister, instead of asking questions and pointing out problems, maybe he should begin tendering more meaningful solutions.

If anything, this debacle over the appointment of Justice Sykes only demonstrates one thing: We are a country of the blind leading the blind.

J Scott


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