Legal Eagle: The justice system needs to be fixed

February 26, 2018
Prime Minister Andrew Holness (right) raps with Bryan Sykes, acting chief justice of Jamaica.

Last week, the King's House issued a press release about an 'intervention' by the governor general in what can now be best described as the chief justice appointment saga.

Regrettably, the press release did not indicate a solution or a time frame for a solution. If the media did not editorialise the release, Sir Patrick ought to have taken better care in communicating what happened during his 'intervention' meeting, as it is certainly not clear.

According to the press release, all three branches of Government, namely the executive, legislative and judiciary, were present and well represented. By deliberate design by the framers of the cConstitution, all three branches of Government are supposed to be separate and independent.

The judiciary is often seen as the weakest of the three branches.

For instance, in the protocol list at official functions, apart from the governor general and the prime minister, all Cabinet ministers, ministers of state, leader of the opposition, speaker, deputy speaker of the Houses of Parliament and former governor general are mentioned and recognised before the judiciary.

However, in the United States, following the president, vice-president, governors of states and speaker of the House, the chief justice is next.

In Jamaica, the members of the judiciary are not provided with the same kind of security detail as members of the other two branches.

Also, it is the executive and legislative branches that determine the funding and support given to the judiciary. Those branches, based on funding, determine what the judiciary can do for a given year. Thus, a chief justice can talk forever about improving the system, but if the other two branches do not make the money available, it will be business as usual.

Above all, pursuant to Section 98 of the Constitution, the appointment of the chief justice as head of the judiciary is done by the governor general, being a member of the ceremonial executive branch on the recommendation of the Prime minister, being a member of the executive and legislative branches, after consultation with the leader of the opposition, who is also a member of the legislative branch. In the United States, the president makes the appointment, which is subject to confirmation from the Senate, while in the United Kingdom, the chief justice is appointed based on a recommendation from Judicial Appointments Commission.




Jamaica could well take a page out of the books of the United States or the United Kingdom with respect to the appointment of the next chief justice or even the next president of the Court of Appeal. The prime minister could set up an independent commission to advise him on these important appointments.

Maybe the prime minister's best legacy to the judiciary would be to appoint a special commission to reform our justice system and consider budget allocation; security at courthouses and for members of the judiciary; appointments of judges to include the chief justice and president of the Court of Appeal; the structure of the courts, to include renaming the Court of Appeal and to have the chief justice sit as head of the Court of Appeal; to have a Family Court/Children's Court in every parish; the appointment of Queen Counsel, to review the operation of the Office of Director of Public Prosecutions, the Attorney General's Chambers and role of the director of state proceedings; and how the police and other organisations interface with the justice system. Obviously, we have an old system that needs some fixing.

These are my last words, as this column will be discontinued.

It would be remiss of me not to thank the many readers who took the time each week for the last two years to read the column.

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