GREEN LIGHT FOR SYKES

Holness to confirm outstanding jurist as Chief Justice within days — source

BY HG HELPS
Editor-at-Large
helpsh@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, February 11, 2018

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OUTRAGE at the non-appointment of Justice Bryan Sykes as Chief Justice of Jamaica outright has led, in part to a decision to hand him the job full-time after all, the Jamaica Observer has been reliably informed.

Sykes was appointed to act as head of Jamaica's judiciary at the end of January. It marked the first time in Jamaica's history that anyone had been so appointed — which sparked ongoing disapproval by sections of the society, more so the legal fraternity, which felt that Prime Minister Andrew Holness, who is vested with the authority to recommend the Chief Justice, made a wrong move.

Comments by Holness during the swearing-in at King's House, St Andrew, at the time, more than raised eyebrows, as critics felt that he had thrown a performance evaluation sheet in the lap of the Chief Justice, which would determine whether or not he was capable of continuing to turn the keys to the office reserved for the boss of the judiciary, who also has the right to hear matters at the level of the Court of Appeal.

Under Jamaican law, the Prime Minister recommends the Chief Justice, after consulting with the Leader of the Opposition. The Governor General then appoints and signs the appointment into law.

However, neither the Chief Justice nor the president of the Court of Appeal — the latter who presides over the nation's second-highest court — report to the Prime Minister, what with Jamaica's three-prong form of government in place — the Legislature (Parliament), the Executive (Cabinet), and the Judiciary.

Two prominent attorneys-at-law who spoke to the Jamaica Observer last week said that the signs were there for the confirmation to be effected, and according to one, “long before the end of the month of February”.

“The Prime Minister now gets the chance to right the wrong, and when that is done he is likely to regain any amount of respect that was lost,” one of them said.

“I know for sure that Prime Minister Holness has decided to set things straight and will do so very soon. He is not going to drag out this matter much further — a matter which should never have been blown up this big had Mr Holness been given the right legal advice by those around him who ought to have known better,” the other said. “I am well informed that Mr Justice Sykes will be given the appointment that he so thoroughly deserves in a matter of days.”

Sykes, 60, has had a distinguished career in legal and judicial circles spanning close to 40 years. He has presided over some of the most telling cases, particularly in the Supreme Court, and has earned the respect of members of the broader legal community for his tough, fearless, though fair stance on matters of law. Some of the cases include civil matters like that which involved the National Commercial Bank against the Industrial Disputes Tribunal and Peter Jennings; as well as the Fair Trading Commission v Crichton Automotive; RBTT Bank v YP Seaton; Michael Lorne v the Gleaner Company; Raymond Ramdean v Ruel Reid (now minister of education) and the Board of Management of Jamaica College; Mossell (Jamaica) Ltd v Cable and Wireless; the Jamaican Bar Association v The Attorney General and the General Legal Council, among others.

Among those who have publicly voiced their disapproval of the decision to appoint Justice Sykes to act are veteran attorneys K Churchill Neita, Valerie Neita Robertson, and Jacqueline Cummings, who presides over the Jamaican Bar Association.

Last week, retired President of the Court of Appeal Justice Seymour Panton urged the prime minister to “move with haste” in effecting the appointment of Sykes.

Panton, in a report carried by daily broadsheet The Gleaner, effectively urged Holness not to expose himself to a possible legal, constitutional challenge.

“The chances are that the courts will decide that an acting chief justice may only be appointed where there is no vacancy, and the holder of the post is on vacation or sick leave or otherwise out of office. We need to avoid such a situation.

“I assume that the honourable Prime Minister was advised that the appointment of a chief justice could be done in this manner. If he was so advised, it is my humble view that the advice was incorrect; and there is no good reason to continue along the path of such advice,” Panton told the paper, while describing Justice Sykes as one who maintains high standards and does impressive work.

Sykes, a past student of Titchfield High School in the eastern parish of Portland, and a “strong” Christian according to those who know him well, has not commented on the furore surrounding his appointment — something that judges who find themselves in such rare situations usually stay far from.

Efforts up to last evening to get more information on the exact date of the ratification of Sykes's appointment failed. However, minister of justice, Rhodes Scholar Delroy Chuck, hinted on Television Jamaica's Prime Time News last Friday that “an important announcement” would be made shortly.

“I don't want to steal the Prime Minister's thunder, and that of the Governor General but an important announcement will be made soon,” Chuck said, fuelling further speculation that Sykes would be given the job full-time.

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