Legal Eagle: Protecting Jamaica from 'One Don' rule

February 19, 2018
Prime Minister Andrew Holness and members of his Cabinet arrive for the official opening of Parliament on Thursday.

Lord Acton was correct when he said: "Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely". This refers to totalitarianism, dictatorship, fascism, anarchism, tyranny and even 'One Don-ism'.

It happens especially when leaders of governments and/or other branches of government ignore the doctrine of the separation of powers, which is a political doctrine of constitutional law whereby the three branches of government, that is to say, the executive, legislative and judiciary, are kept separate in order to prevent the abuse of power.




The framers of our Constitution were careful to skilfully outline the powers and functions of the three branches of government, that is to say, the executive, legislative and judiciary, without causing any functional interference from one to the other. The Constitution of Jamaica was deliberately drafted to facilitate the smooth operation of the three branches of government without any of the branches trampling on the other.

So important is the doctrine of separation of powers that in response to the unprecedented declaration by 97 judges last week, the entire Cabinet, in a historic declaration in response, reaffirmed the Cabinet's [executive and legislative] commitment to the principle of separation of power. The matter had to do with Prime Minister Andrew Holness' decision to recommend that Justice Bryan Sykes be appointed acting chief justice even though there is a clear vacancy. To make it worse, the prime minister, in a subsequent statement, made it clear that he has to see performance from the acting chief justice before he can make the appointment permanent.

Let us be clear, each branch of government must account to the people of Jamaica in the manner provided under the Constitution. The legislative arm must make laws and provide for the needs of the people. The judiciary must give effect to the laws and enforce them, while the ceremonial executive functions are to be carried out by the governor general, pursuant to the Constitution and the operational executive function by the Cabinet.

The aim is to ensure that the major institutions of the State function independent of each other without any individual having the power over all the branches. Through checks and balances, the doctrine of separation of power protects the Jamaican people from totalitarian rule or 'One Don', whether he sits at Jamaica House, King Street, Gordon House or King's House.

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