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Don't panic, judges told

Published:Thursday | January 29, 2015 | 12:00 AM

Edmond Campbell and Barbara Gayle, Senior Staff Reporter and Justice Coordinator

Court of Appeal President Seymour Panton has declared that if comments attributed to National Security Minister Peter Bunting in relation to the assignment of bodyguards to judges on a needs basis only are correct, then the minister's statement is "silly".

Panton warned yesterday that if the bodyguards assigned to judges are withdrawn, then the courts would be shut down.

"The nature of the judge's job does not make the judge in less need of protection than those named by the minister," he said.

Panton said the court was one of the three executive arms of Government and, therefore, another executive arm of Government cannot determine something of that nature without consulting the judiciary.

In a statement to Parliament on Tuesday, Bunting had announced that only the governor general and members of the political directorate would automatically be accorded close protection officers (CPOs).

With the exception of the category of persons to be assigned mandatory CPOs, Bunting indicated that the assignment of bodyguards would be based on recommendations informed by threat assessments.

Yesterday, in response to the uproar caused among judges by his statement, Bunting released a new statement in which he indicated his ministry recognised that "most, if not all our judges and magistrates, must qualify for CPOs on the basis of the inherent risk profile of their jobs".

At the same time, Police Commissioner Dr Carl Williams has rushed to assuage the judges' fury.

"I would just want to caution the judges that they should not panic, they should remain calm because we will ensure that, as they take care of the other situations that they do take care of, that they are also taken care of," Williams said.

Speaking yesterday at the Jamaica Employers' Federation CEO Breakfast at the Knutsford Court Hotel in New Kingston, the police commissioner assured judges and other persons who currently benefit from the services of CPOs that "no one will automatically lose their security".

"We will ensure that whatever we do as we rationalise our units, that all the areas that are currently being covered will continue to receive good and proper coverage," he said.

Yesterday, the opposition spokesman on justice, Alexander Williams, argued that there could be no argument against judges retaining police protection.

"In deciding on cases, whether civil or criminal, their will oftentimes be disgruntled parties who will harbour resentment that can lead to criminal conduct, and that might well be targeted at the judge," he said.