Sun | Jan 20, 2019

Baptists' long route to justice

Published:Monday | September 24, 2018 | 12:00 AM
Justice Bryan Sykes

Reverend Dr Glenroy Lalor on Sunday highlighted the irony of Jamaica's Chief Justice Bryan Sykes, head of the country's judiciary, being a Baptist deacon as a major turnaround for the administration of justice - something well worthy of note and an indication of just how far we have come as a country, in that regard.

"There was a time when the only occasion that this deacon can be in court was to be sentenced. Sentenced for worshipping illegally, having illegal prayer meetings, or sentenced with flogging or hanging, and here, we have one of our Baptist deacons serving as a chief justice.

"I do believe Sam Sharpe, George William Gordon, and Paul Bogle must be smiling somewhere. Their spirits are with us," Lalor told the congregation at the annual Assize Service at East Queen Street Baptist Church, downtown Kingston, to mark the opening session of the Michaelmas Term of the Supreme Court.

His comments came after Sykes brought greetings under the theme for the service, 'Justice, Truth Be Ours Forever'.

Sharpe, who was hanged for his leadership role in the 1831-1832 Christmas Rebellion; and Gordon, the only legislator executed by the State, along with Bogle, his campaign manager, for their roles the 1865 Morant Bay Rebellion, were all lay Baptist preachers at the times of their demise. The actions of the three men, drawn from diverse backgrounds but united in their opposition to oppression, and which was portrayed as treasonous at the time, have since been recognised as those of freedom fighters and for which they have since been accorded National Hero status.


The Assize Service


Each year, the Assize Service, which is held before the opening of the term, is headed by the chief justice, members of the legal profession, and specially invited guests at a selected church to invoke God's blessing on the administration of justice for the new term and court year.

Information provided by the Court Management Services is that this local ceremony is based on the British practice where assizes, which were courts held in the main county towns and presided over by visiting judges from the higher courts, were transferred to the colonies in about the 17th century.

Back then, the arrival of the assize judges in a town was a very solemn occasion because they represented the power and authority of the Crown and could impose the death penalty, which justices of the peace who presided over the Quarter Sessions could not do.

As a result, an elaborate ceremony developed around their arrival, and the judges were escorted from the borders of the country to the assize town. They made a grand entrance, led by the sheriff and principal gentry of the county, who accompanied them to their lodges, usually one of the grander houses in the town.

The court session began with the judges in their ceremonial robes going off to the local parish church, where the sheriff chaplain preached the assize sermon, which would often stress the wisdom of the laws and righteousness of the punishments about to be imposed.