Thu | May 24, 2018

No joking with justice - PM moves to allay fears that he wants to trample on judicial independence

Published:Sunday | February 4, 2018 | 12:00 AMArthur Hall
Holness
Prime Minister Andrew Holness returns 10-month-old Zareeka Forbes to her father Kelroy Forbes (foreground) during a tour of the Denham Town zone of special operations with the European Union delegation.
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Prime Minister Andrew Holness has scoffed at claims that his decision to appoint Bryan Sykes to act as the country's chief justice is an attempt to overstep the bounds into the affairs of the judiciary.

"The notion that the acting appointment is for me to interfere with the freedom of the judiciary is far-fetched. In my two years as prime minister, I have never communicated with judges on legal matters or their roles," declared Holness in response to questions from The Sunday Gleaner.

"I have never had any contact with the previous chief justice on any legal matter, and it would be ridiculous to assume that I would want to have any say in how this chief justice goes about his decisions.

"All I am interested in is the administration's stated objectives of strengthening the rule of law and timely justice outcomes are met," added Holness as he reiterated a position stated last Friday, as a firestorm broke out over his decision to ask the governor general to appoint Sykes to act in the post.

Holness responded to his critics then, as he argued that he was urged to take an unconventional approach to governance, and now that he is doing so he is being chastised.

Among the critics is Opposition Leader Dr Peter Phillips, who last Friday told a media briefing that he was consulted by the prime minister and gave his backing to the appointment of Sykes but opposed the decision to appoint him to act.

"The prime minister needs to act now to correct this untenable situation which has grave consequences for the foundations and traditions of our Jamaican democracy," argued Phillips.

 

SECTION 99 OF THE CONSTITUTION

 

But yesterday, Holness hit back, pointing to The Bahamas which has had an acting chief justice since last November.

"Section 99 of the Constitution provides for the appointing of an acting chief justice, and the Judicial Services Commission has appointed judges to act in other roles in the past," he argued.

The prime minister, who toured the zone of special operations in Denham Town, West Kingston, last Friday with visiting officials of the European Union (EU), noted that significant amounts have been pumped into the justice system in recent time, and while more resources are needed, there is a determination to see targets met.

"Sometimes there is concern (on the part of the EU) that we have not seen the results that we would like as fast as we would like to see them ... but we take seriously the taxpayers' funds of Europeans as we do the taxpayers' funds of Jamaica ... and we must ensure that we get value for money," Holness told members of the EU delegation.

In December 2016, the Government signed an agreement with the EU for just over J$3 billion to improve the quality of justice provided to Jamaicans.

This represented the largest single budgetary commitment to justice reform by the EU in the world, with the Government charged to increase access to gender-responsive, accountable and effective justice services, especially for the vulnerable, and improving treatment of children in the criminal justice system

Yesterday, Holness told the The Sunday Gleaner, "We intend to spend more on the justice system but it is not just about getting more resources, we want to see the money used efficiently."

arthur.hall@gleanerjm.com