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Sykes to be chief justice on Friday — source

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

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

THE furore over the appointment of Bryan Sykes as chief justice of Jamaica could end Friday when he is expected to be confirmed in the job, an impeccable Jamaica Observer source said yesterday.

Sykes was appointed acting chief justice at the start of the month, sparking fury in some circles, mainly legal, that Prime Minister Andrew Holness erred when he recommended to Governor General Sir Patrick Allen that the veteran jurist act in the post, rather than confirm him since a clear vacancy existed.

Sykes's appointment by the governor general led many to question the rationale behind the move, as it was the first time in Jamaica's history that a chief justice was being made to act indefinitely. To make matters even more flammable, comments by Holness at the King's House swearing-in led to widespread condemnation and suggestions that he was interfering with the work of the judiciary.

Holness suggested that Justice Sykes's appointment as chief justice would be dependent on how he performs, which angered the members of the legal fraternity and the judiciary present to see the veteran jurist replace Zaila McCalla, who had reached the age of retirement at age 70.

Under Jamaica's separation of powers, the head of the judiciary does not report to the prime minister.

The Sunday Observer of February 11 quoted one of two unnamed sources as saying that the ratification of Justice Sykes as head of the judiciary would be done “within days”, but no details were provided.

Yesterday, another source told the Observer that preparations were being made for the appointment of Sykes to be “finalised in a proper manner”, although the nature of the formalisation was not disclosed.

It is likely that there will be another ceremony at King's House, the official residence of the governor general.

The Observer also understands that Justice Sykes will soon be accorded Jamaica's fourth highest national honour — the Order of Jamaica. He is now a member of the Order of Distinction (Commander Class).

Earlier in the day, 97 judges drawn from Jamaica's second highest court, the Court of Appeal, as well as the Supreme Court, and parish courts islandwide, met at the Supreme Court, in what legal minds have described as an unprecedented move, to discuss matters affecting them.

The action was taken without the knowledge or blessing of Justice Sykes, the Observer understands.

The Court Management Services (CMS), in a news release mid-afternoon, confirmed that the judges deliberated “a number of issues”, including the matter of the acting appointment of Justice Sykes.

The move dealt a blow to proceedings in the courts, although the CMS said in the statement that “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. Cases that were scheduled to be heard in the parish courts today were adjourned for the day, and all court matters will resume tomorrow, Tuesday, February 13, 2018”.

Last night, word emerged that the judges who met at the Supreme Court would communicate with the prime minister to convey their disgust with the manner in which he has handled the appointment of Sykes.

The members of the judiciary described comments by Holness during the swearing in of Sykes as “unfortunate”, and are seeking a retraction and a public acknowledgement from the prime minister that the chief justice does not report to, nor is answerable to him.

The CMS, in the news release, said that the judiciary apologises to the members of the legal fraternity, witnesses, jurors, members of the public, and other stakeholders for the inconvenience caused and the loss of time in a sector that is already burdened by huge case backlogs. It also said that it would undertake “a number of measures in an effort to address the time lost”.

Among the measures stated is for extended sittings of the courts — something that court officials said could be agreed with the respective parties involved to handle matters that were not dealt with yesterday.

The news release urged people with court matters to contact the Court Management Services at 665-3701, 1888-429-5268 or e-mail customerservices@cms.gov.jm for further information on their matters.