Sat | Jun 23, 2018

Editorial | Justice Holness acting beyond his competence

Published:Tuesday | February 6, 2018 | 12:00 AM

Perhaps the prime minister fancies himself to have received solid counsel from his attorney general, Marlene Malahoo Forte. Or maybe he believes he has the legal chops to mount the defence himself. But we caution him again that his mangled interpretation of the Constitution makes a mockery of his assumption of the role of Justice Holness.

Justice Andrew Holness' waffle regarding his decision to appoint Bryan Sykes as acting chief justice, contrary to precedence and the tenets and spirit of the Constitution, has revealed his tone-deafness in the face of unchallengeable legal wisdom.

His intransigence now centres on the claim that he had never had contact with the previous chief justice Zaila McCalla, nor with the current acting holder, Justice Sykes, an argument that is immaterial.

 

Holness Unrepentant

 

Justice Holness purports to have a grasp on constitutional matters that his reputation and argumentation do not support. With a clear vacancy, he does not have the legal right to appoint a judge on probation nor does he have the authority to supervise or assess his/her work. What is dangerous and scandalous is that Justice Holness is unrepentant on this score.

Had we not the reference of history, we might have mistaken Justice Holness to be an authority on the Constitution, and offered him the benefit of the doubt. But this newspaper recalls well his attempted hijack of the Constitution when he arranged for his then opposition senators to pre-sign resignation letters, a plot which almost buried the hand that crafted it on behalf of Justice Holness.

Christopher Tufton and Arthur Williams were jettisoned by Justice Holness, coincidentally after casting their lots with Audley Shaw in a bitter internal leadership squabble that fractured the Labour Party. But Arthur Williams, who admitted to drafting the execution orders, including his own, refused to turn tail. He pursued legal proceedings against Mr Holness, and the Supreme Court upheld that Lettergate was unconstitutional.

Despite that chastening, Justice Holness has again sought to arrogate to himself powers that do not reside within the radius of his prime ministerial authority. We are persuaded that Justice Sykes' track record has vindicated his selection, but Justice Holness' action and stone-faced resistance to sensible counsel has placed the acting chief justice in an invidious position, where his judgments may not carry the full weight of public confidence in an atmosphere of rank politicking.

Justice Holness has metamorphosed into an unseemly invigilator, taking on the sinister position of grading Justice Sykes and determining, based on performance, if he should be permanently established. He has no such power. But we remind Justice Holness that he had sworn some two years ago to draft and publish job descriptions for his ministers and set performance timelines. To this day, he has failed to uphold that promise. Instead of infringing on the justice system, we suggest that the prime minister try to run his own house before trespassing on others'.

If Justice Holness remains immune to reason on this matter, we commend an idea he might find worthy of consideration: an acting prime minister, with the electorate's right to recall.