Columns

Chief Justice Bryan Sykes — a man with a mission

Raulston
Nembhard

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

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So the prime minister's 'probationary period' for Acting Chief Justice Bryan Sykes has ended with his full appointment. This matter having been laid to rest, the chief justice can now bend his energies and talent to the arduous task of reforming the justice system so it can deliver the kind of justice that Jamaicans demand. There are archaic systems and methodologies that need to be eliminated and new approaches taken that can make for the functioning of an efficient justice system.

If there is one thing that this imbroglio brought to the forefront, it is the clarification of the legitimate spheres of operation between the judiciary and the executive. The principle of the separation of powers between the two has been long assumed and, frankly, has not been tested in any substantial way. The robust debate that ensued in this matter brought the issue to the forefront and could only have been beneficial to the country. Any future prime minister will be very careful of any attempt to even suggest that the judiciary is accountable to him/her, or that he/she can set any probationary period in which a chief justice must prove himself before being appointed permanently to the job.

Those who supported, and perhaps still support the prime minister's decision seem to have missed this point in the debate. The furore was not so much over his desire to set a new paradigm for accountability for the judiciary, but whether he or any future prime minister could demand that this institution should be answerable to him. If he did not intend this, his treatment of the matter was awkward, to say the least. Indeed, the issue was not whether Andrew Holness had the constitutional right to appoint an acting chief justice, though this was important for some stakeholders. The ire he created was his insistence that such a person must bring results before his appointment — a wholly untenable position for many to stomach.

Another good thing to have come out of the debate is the highlighting of the need for reform of the justice system and the urgency of giving that part of the country's need the resources to do an effective job. If it was not clear before, it has now become abundantly so that the delivery of justice in Jamaica is severely hampered by the lack of resources that are allocated to it. It was counterproductive to ask Justice Sykes to engage actions that bring results within the context of the rickety system in which he has operated for years and was being asked to do as chief justice.

The Justice Minister Delroy Chuck talks a good talk, but there is not an abundance of evidence to suggest that he is sufficiently seized of the urgency of what is demanded to effect change. We need to see less talk and more decisive action. He may start with the little irritations in the system that cause people discomfiture. Repair of some of the more dilapidated courthouses would help. The digitalisation of the system to remove archaic methods of doing things would also be helpful.

The employment of retired judges to ease the backlog of cases in the courts is a step in the right direction. There needs to be a stronger appreciation for what the police do in apprehending criminals and bringing them to trial, the speedy determination of those cases in the courts, and the rehabilitation of the offender when in the custody of the State. None of these parts are separate or distant from each other. One is not sure that this nexus of relationship is appreciated enough in our dispensation of justice. Without this the allocation of resources will be skewed, eclectic and not given the comprehensive assessment that it ought.

The chief justice will be concerned about the timely and efficient delivery of justice in his courts. He sounds like a man on a mission to bring the Jamaican justice system into the 21st century. His first public salvos about his intentions for reform sound good, but for him to do an effective job he has to be given the resources to do the job well. We cannot give him a basket to carry water and then complain about how much water is wasted.

We hope he does not become frustrated too early on the job because he wants to move forward but is being hampered by a political bureaucracy that gives more credence to its own fortunes rather than the efficient delivery of justice to the people. In this it would be useful if he talks with the people more and help us to understand how important justice is to the building of a strong and vibrant society. This column wishes him well in his tenure.

Dr Raulston Nembhard is a priest and social commentator. Send comments to the Observer or stead6655@aol.com.

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