Valerie Neita-Robertson | Halfway house flies in the face of justice
Recent national events have brought to the forefront of my thoughts the imagery in Shakespeare's As You Like It that:
"All the world's a stage, And all the men and women merely players; They have their exits and entrances, And one man in his time plays many parts ... ."
The director of elections in a holding position short of the contractual period of service, the commissioner of police vacating the post unexpectedly, and now, an acting chief justice!
When will this scene end? When will this play conclude? When will the stand-in be replaced by the lead actor? When will the rehearsals end and the real show begin? When!?
The vacancy of the post of chief justice was not a position that would have taken anyone by surprise and that it would have arisen at this time was imminent. However, the appointment has been approached in a manner that smacks of political interference.
It is the first time in Jamaica's post-Independence history that an acting chief justice has been appointed. This approach gives the impression that the powers that be lack confidence in the judiciary and that there is not one judge of the Court of Appeal or the Supreme Court that is qualified to be appointed chief justice of Jamaica. It undermines the frail system of justice at a time that is crucial to the confidence of our citizenry that as a developing nation, we can ensure the delivery of justice.
This halfway house appointment flies in the face of the principles of separation of powers that safeguards our Constitution and prevents the abuse of power by our politicians. The executive, legislature, and judiciary are to be separated and are to be allowed to perform their functions without the exertion of force on any branch by any of them.
In the Privy Council decision of Hinds v The Queen 1976 1 All ER 353, the independence of the judiciary as stated by the Jamaican Constitution was highlighted. Their lordships stated:
"... Those who hold any salaried judicial office in Jamaica shall be appointed on the recommendation from the Judicial Service Commission and that their independence from political pressure from Parliament or by the executive in exercise of their judicial functions shall be assured by granting them such degree of security of tenure in their office as is justified by the importance of the jurisdiction that they exercise."
I urge the powers that be to cease and desist from perpetuating the impression that the official is simply holding a space for another preferred person who is to take up office at a later date; or the perception that the official is not deemed competent enough to be appointed; and the perception that if you act contrary to our view, you can be replaced with the snap of a finger.
Mr Justice Sykes, who is an eminent jurist, does not deserve that.
I call on the private Bar and all of my learned colleagues to protect the sanctity of the Constitution and let their voices be heard should Justice Sykes not be appointed to the post of chief justice of Jamaica.
- Valerie Neita-Robertson, QC, is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.