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No intention to interfere with judiciary, says Cabinet

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

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The Cabinet yesterday countered accusations that Prime Minister Andrew Holness intended to interfere with the independence of the judiciary, saying that his comments at the February 1 ceremony in which he appointed Bryan Sykes as acting chief justice were “taken out of context and used to create a non-existent threat to the independence of the judiciary”.

“There was never any intention on the part of the executive to 'supervise or direct' the judicial branch. The prime minister, in accordance with the constitution, recommended someone to perform the roles and functions of the chief justice. It was not intended to have the recommended person act indefinitely. It was always the intention of the Government, in short order, to appoint the chief justice,” the Executive said in a statement responding to mounting criticism of the prime minister on the issue.

Ironically, Holness in his speech, had initially emphasised the Government's respect for the separation of powers, but courted controversy when he stated that “actions that bring results will determine the assumption of the role of chief justice”.

That comment, plus the acting appointment of Sykes resulted in criticism that climaxed on Monday morning when near 100 judges met at the Supreme Court in Kingston to discuss the issue and other concerns.

The action, the first in the country's history, effectively shut down the court system for the morning, even though the Court Management Services said that not all court matters were affected as some 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,” the Court Management Services advised.

The judges from the Court of Appeal, Supreme Court and Parish Courts of Jamaica, in a declaration issued on Monday, said they had found it necessary to publicly register their “grave concern” regarding some statements made by the prime minister following the appointment of Justice Sykes as acting chief justice.

“These concerns relate to the prime minister's explanation of the rationale for recommending an acting instead of a permanent appointment to the post of chief justice. We wish to make it clear that we do not speak on behalf of the acting chief justice, and are acting independently of him and without his concurrence in indicating our disquiet. We make no comment in respect of the ongoing debate surrounding the question whether the acting appointment of Chief Justice Sykes is unconstitutional, illegal or otherwise invalid,” the judges said.

Yesterday, the Cabinet said that if the prime minister's comment caused concerns to the judicial arm, he “has no hesitation in unconditionally withdrawing the comment”.

“The Government acknowledges the right and duty of the judges to zealously safeguard and preserve their judicial independence and the separation of powers. Notwithstanding, this must be done in such a way that does not undermine another arm of the State, negatively impact the economy or compromise the rule of law,” the Cabinet release said.

(See full Cabinet statement on Page 6)

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