Sun | Oct 21, 2018

Letter of the Day | Dictatorial swipe against justice

Published:Monday | February 5, 2018 | 12:00 AM


It is said that all dictators think they are acting in the best interests of their people - regardless of criticism - simply because they know best. Andrew Holness, the prime minister, is inching dangerously towards that precipice, and his argument that he is "from a different school of thought" is disingenuous and dangerous.

There is significant merit to the independence of the judiciary, especially from the executive in a country like Jamaica. The ruling political party already controls the Houses of Parliament and Jamaica House, so to add a third rung, - where the chief justice must also "perform" to the standards of the prime minister - goes too far.

The problem of accountability of the judiciary is a simple one. Judges are not, and should not, be accountable to taxpayers - they are accountable to the Constitution and the laws framed around it.

If the prime minister wants a more efficient judiciary, he should create a more independent judiciary where the judges focus on the law, and court administrators focus on the operations of the court.

The meddling of the Ministry of Justice, the budget uncertainty, and politicisation of justice in the country have not augured well for the system. I cannot imagine why the prime minister would think that making the chief justice accountable to him would improve the situation.

If anything, the prime minister has increased his power over the courts while raising the potential for a scandal. Observers could argue that the chief justice would be faced with a conflict of interest if a case came before him involving the ruling JLP, the Government, or the prime minister, since he has no security of tenure and would be judged on his performance.

The prime minister could also easily remove or decline the permanent appointment of the chief justice because of an unfavourable decision, while publicly blaming "performance".

It is no secret that many members of the judiciary and Bar were critical of the outgoing chief justice, not because of her legal ability, but because of her administrative deficiencies. The solution is not to remove the independence of the next chief justice, but to empower the next chief justice with a chief court administrator responsible for implementing policy, driving efficiency, and equipping judges with the resources they need to "perform".

A more aware and involved electorate would call for the withdrawal of the decision and an apology. In any event, the prime minister must become truly accountable to taxpayers by the passing of impeachment legislation.