Orville Taylor | Sykes in, psychs out
Psychs! This is when Jamaicans are attempting to pull a fast one. It comes from the behavioural science, psychology, which I am marginally familiar with, and very similar to when Americans prank you. Often it is where a joke is made of a very serious matter, and at the very last moment when faecal matter is about to collide with the ventilating apparatus, the prankster snaps, "Psyche!"
On the matter of justice and democracy, there is no space for duplicity, and our government bowlers must, avoiding overstepping the crease, use proper line and length, bowl straight, and avoid deceptive deliveries such as googly, or the similar one whose name carries a racial eponym.
If truth be told, though, the most knowledgeable legal luminary in Jamaica as regards the Constitution is bowling a kind of spin, a deceptive delivery from the left instead of the right side, bowled over the wrist and turns the opposite way from the orthodox direction. This bowling action, designed to trap the batsman, sometimes leads to suspect bowling action called chucking, no matter how good the attempt to put a positive spin on it.
Three months ago, the Bar Association of Jamaica (JAMBAR) suggested that the position of chief justice should, like other critical posts in governance, be publicly advertised. JAMBAR has some of the most brilliant persons in its ranks despite a few dim-witted members whose intellect is infected by ego, politics, and an incapacity to think beyond their noses. Collectively, it comprises a large repository of legal expertise, beyond the self-declared knowledge of the current justice minister, and must not be shrugged off.
In a government with around 90 per cent of the same players from the last decade, when dark lights were shone on our democracy, the call by JAMBAR's president, Jacqueline Cummings, was well placed and timed,"... the process of appointing a new chief justice should start with advertising the post and receiving as broad a field of candidates as possible. Further, the appointment of any judge, let alone the chief judge, must be merit-based and consistent with the current demand for transformation of the judicial system." This delivery would have made late Jamaican umpire Douglas Sang Hue very proud.
If bowled properly, the little Chinese Jamaican would quickly stick up the finger at the hapless batsman. Cummings recognised that up to November, there had been no advertisement, and selecting the chief justice was an extremely critical and urgent task, which cannot be done willy-nilly. Like the cricket analogy, three months is a short run-up to the crease. However, if the bowler has enough balls, he can hit the targeted stumps and the entire nation celebrates.
MORE TIME NEEDED
Nonetheless, clearly, the Government needed more time to deliver its pitch, and, apparently, the bowler kept fiddling with the balls for too long, and thus, the middle stump was still standing after a muffed effort to dislodge it.
By the second week of February, we had Justice Minister Delroy Chuck giving a poorly flung spin, trying to excuse what was an embarrassing constitutional crisis. Well-armed, at least two years ago, with the knowledge that Her Ladyship, Chief Justice Zaila McCalla, would be retiring in January 2018, this administration had enough time to approach the wicket. Yet, inexplicably, and with not one iota of legal basis or precedent whatsoever, whistle-clean senior judge Justice Bryan Sykes was made to act with effect from February 1. A proviso in this unconstitutional move was that His Lordship should be on probation to be later evaluated by the prime minister.
His dictum not languishing inside his mouth, he made it clear that Sykes' ultimate confirmation was dependent on "actions that brings (sic) results". My expertise as an academic/educator only allows me to rule on the statement being wrong in grammar, not substance. However, JAMBAR and every single lawyer, with the exception of Chuck and Attorney General Marlene Malahoo Forte, disagreed. Had it been two months later, April Fools' Day, it would have been less surprising because it is not unusual to have persons to whom that date commemorates guide Prime Minister Andrew Holness; and this time, I strongly think that he has a full cadre of such advisers.
One cannot but recall when four years ago, in order to unconstitutionally ensure loyalty to himself, Holness had pre-signed letters of resignations for his senators. Two victims of that debacle were attorney Arthur Williams, who certainly knows more law than Holness does, and Dr Christopher Tufton. This academic's professional responsibilities, which included judging people's intellects, had suggested that Holness was "afraid of bright people".
It is uncertain what kind of diesel fuel is powering Chuck, a man who is known for his sober judgement. However, his excuse that the administrative process was incomplete by the end of January 2018 and that Holness only had time to interview Sykes on January 30, 2018, is beneath his intellect. First of all, this excuse, as flimsy as a carnival costume, is a major indictment on the most learned justice minister, who has consistently badgered the judiciary about efficiencies in its administration of justice. He, therefore, would have no moral authority, were this statement true, because he and his Government did not treat the appointment of a chief justice as a major priority in the speedy delivery of justice for all.
By the way, this Chuck throttled in 2015 that stubbornly, Holness had ignored his legal expertise in the Lettergate despite being told "... that even if he won, it would be a Pyrrhic victory because it would cause great hurt to him and the party, but, obviously, he had advice that he would win the case".
That there are indications that Sykes might be confirmed in the position soon is small consolation, because the prime minister should never have contemplated hoops for any chief justice to jump through. After all, what would those criteria be, and who would be the judge of these? The Chuck of 2015 should have advised Holness this time, but it's all psychs now.
- Dr Orville Taylor is head of the Department of Sociology at the UWI, a radio talk-show host, and author of 'Broken Promises, Hearts and Pockets'. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.