Holness' comment plus the acting appointment of Sykes attracted wide criticism from the public as well as the privat Bar and the Church, and resulted in Monday morning's protest when near 100 judges from the Court of Appeal, Supreme Court and Parish Courts of Jamaica, gathered at the Supreme Court to discuss the issue and other concerns.
The Judges, 97 in all, in an unprecedented declaration, said they had found it necessary to publicly register their “grave concern” regarding some statements made by the prime minister following the appointment of Justice Sykes as acting chief justice.
“These concerns relate to the prime minister's explanation of the rationale for recommending an acting instead of a permanent appointment to the post of chief justice. We wish to make it clear that we do not speak on behalf of the acting chief justice, and are acting independently of him and without his concurrence in indicating our disquiet. We make no comment in respect of the ongoing debate surrounding the question whether the acting appointment of Chief Justice Sykes is unconstitutional, illegal or otherwise invalid,” the judges said.
In a statement yesterday, the Cabinet said “There was never any intention on the part of the executive to 'supervise or direct' the judicial branch. The prime minister, in accordance with the constitution, recommended someone to perform the roles and functions of the chief justice. It was not intended to have the recommended person act indefinitely. It was always the intention of the Government, in short order, to appoint the chief justice.”
"If those comments caused concerns to the Judicial Arm, the Prime Minister has no hesitation in unconditionally withdrawing the comment. We point to other statements in the Prime Minister’s remarks which would have reassured those concerned that the government has no intention to interfere with Judicial Independence. Further, the Prime Minister along with other members of the Cabinet, have made themselves available in the past to resolve issues of concern to the Judicial Branch. We stand ready to do so again with the Judicial Arm or any office of the State to resolve any matter of concern to them," the statement said.
"It is the duty and interest of the Prime Minister, as duly elected representative of the people of Jamaica and the Head of the Government of Jamaica, to ensure the efficient and dignified operations of all branches of government in fulfilment of the spirit and intendment of the Constitution. It is not the wish of the Prime Minister or any member of the Cabinet to divide the State or see the duly elected Government or any part thereof undermined or distracted from its critical role of securing the economic independence, social mobility, safety and security of every Jamaican citizen. At an appropriate time and in short order the Prime Minister will recommend the appointment of the Chief Justice," the statement concluded.
The action, the first in the country's history, effectively shut down the court system for the morning, even though the Court Management Services said that not all court matters were affected as some were heard in the Home Circuit Court and the Gun Court and “most matters scheduled for the afternoon session at the Supreme Court proceeded as scheduled.”
- Countries: Jamaica