Legal Eagle: Who will be the next Chief Justice?

December 04, 2017
Chief Justice Zaila McCalla

Prime Minister, Andrew Holness has a big decision to make in the next few weeks.

He is to appoint the chief justice to replace the current one, Zaila McCalla, who is due to retire at the end of January 2018.

The prime minister's authority to appoint the chief justice is derived from Section 98 of the Constitution of Jamaica, which provides that: "the Chief Justice shall be appointed by the Governor General by instrument under the Broad Seal on the recommendation of the Prime Minister after consultation with the leader of the opposition".

Best practice requires the prime minister to be extremely careful with this important appointment.

The best approach is for the prime minister to look at the qualification of those who have been appointed as chief justices before and since Jamaica's Independence in 1962.

There is a common thread that runs through all the appointees since 1962. Most have worked with the Government as clerk of court, crown counsel, or with the attorney general's department.

Most served as resident magistrates, all were appointed as judges of the Supreme Court, and most important, all have been appointed as judges of the Court of Appeal.




It should be noted that pursuant to Section 98(3) of the Constitution, the qualification for appointment as a judge of the Supreme Court shall be those prescribed by law.

Usually, it is 10 years at the Bar. However, one would presume that the need for a depth of judicial knowledge and experience is because of the special role of the chief justice.

This is because the chief justice is the head of the judiciary in Jamaica. In that regard, he or she must fully understand the operations of the various courts.

Having worked in these courts would be an advantage. The chief justice is also the chairman of the Judicial Services Commission, which deals with the appointments of all judges in Jamaica.

The chief justice might also be invited to sit at the Court of Appeal.

The person has to guide the operations of the Court Management Services, which provides all the administrative services for the court system.

In addition, the chief justice must be a competent judge with very clear knowledge of the substantive law and the law of evidence so as to judge and rule in the most complex civil and criminal cases, along with full court cases.

The prime minister must be careful in choosing. It is hoped that the person so chosen would enjoy the respect of the Bench and Bar as well as the wider society.

If the prime minister considered the names published in the media, it is clear that he would be making a serious departure from 55 years of long established practice of some of the basic requirements for nominees for the post.

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