Wed | Jan 16, 2019

Editorial | Bryan Sykes and the remaining scars

Published:Friday | March 2, 2018 | 12:00 AM

All's not necessarily well because it ends well. Sometimes there is still work to be done to put things right. So, the fact that Prime Minister Andrew Holness facilitated Bryan Sykes' swearing-in yesterday as Jamaica's chief justice doesn't mean that the harm he did to the judiciary by his maladroit handling of the appointment has automatically been repaired.

Our hope, though, is that the fact that Mr Holness' misadventure persisted for only a month means that the wounds were not too deep, the scar tissues won't fester, and that, to the extent that they remain, they stand as reminders to the folly of prime minister and executive overreach. Or, put another way, this episode should be a teaching moment for Mr Holness and his successors.

Justice Sykes' predecessor, Zaila McCalla, as is required by the Constitution, retired on January 31 on her 70th birthday. Justice Sykes was named to act in the post, an action that many interests, including this newspaper, believed was constitutionally questionable in a circumstance where a clear vacancy existed; that the acting position wasn't occasioned by an emergency; and that it was an interim posting to cover the hiatus between the departure of one chief justice and her declared, but not immediately available, successor.


Greater catastrophe


But the prime minister's greater catastrophe, perhaps, was his suggestion that Justice Sykes was on probation, and that it would be his performance in the acting role that would determine if he got the job permanently. Mr Holness' intent, of course, was to appear a thoughtful and stern leader who demanded accountability from all in government.

He didn't, however, reckon with the larger concepts of the separation of powers and the independence of the judiciary, especially the fact that it wasn't within the purview of the political/executive arm of government to direct judges, or appear to do so. Mr Holness crossed the line. He finally retreated, but only after a stubborn, then vain, persistence. We hope he has learned a lesson that will enhance his premiership.