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Courts shut down as judges protest chief justice issue

Observer staff reporter

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Courts islandwide were on 'lockdown' yesterday morning as almost 100 judges met at the Supreme Court in Kingston to discuss concerns regarding the appointment of Justice Bryan Sykes as acting chief justice and Prime Minister Andrew Holness's comments in relation to the appointment.

“The thrust of the meeting was to reaffirm the hallowed principles of the separation of powers doctrine and the independence of the judiciary,” a spokesman for the judges said.

The unexpected, historic meeting follows heavy flak from the parliamentary Opposition, the Jamaican Bar Association, and several groups who have accused the prime minister of signalling an intent to interfere with the judiciary.

Holness drew the criticisms after saying at Sykes' swearing-in ceremony at King's House on February 1, that “actions that bring results will determine the assumption of the role of chief justice”.

Sykes replaced Zaila McCalla who has retired.

Yesterday, the Court Management Services issued a release admitting that judges across the island did convene a meeting at the Supreme Court building in which a number of issues, including the appointment of Justice Bryan Sykes to act in the role of chief justice, were discussed.

“Not all court matters were affected; some matters were heard in the Home Circuit Court and the Gun Court. Most matters scheduled for the afternoon session at the Supreme Court proceeded as scheduled,” the release stated, adding that cases that were scheduled to be heard in the Parish Courts were adjourned for the day, and all court matters will resume today.

“We apologise to the members of the public, the legal fraternity, witnesses, jurors, and all other our stakeholders for the loss of time and inconvenience caused. The courts will undertake a number of measures in an effort to address the time lost,” the Court Management Services said.

The judges, through their spokesperson, also expressed regret at the inconvenience to litigants, attorneys, and the public, but said that the meeting was an “absolute necessity”.

Among the cases affected by yesterday's action was the murder trial involving St Thomas businessman Michael McLean, who is being tried for the deaths of six family members, including four children, in 2006.

But lawyers who spoke to the Jamaica Observer yesterday at the Supreme Court were in solidarity with the judges.

“I don't think that the prime minister ought to have appointed the chief justice to act. Quite apart from issues of constitutionality, it does not appear to have been a good idea,” said Queen's Counsel Michael Hylton.

“It has created a great deal of uncertainty in the profession and the judiciary, which is very undesirable, so we hope it will be resolved quickly,” he added.

Another attorney, George Clue, said, “I think Justice Sykes ought to be appointed as chief justice as he is the best man for the job and I believe we will see some good results.”

Efforts to reach Justice Minister Delroy Chuck for a comment were unsuccessful but he was quoted in the electronic media last Friday as saying the prime minister will be making an announcement in relation to the matter soon.