Thu | May 24, 2018

Garth Rattray | Don't undermine authority figures

Published:Monday | February 12, 2018 | 12:00 AM

I found it incongruous that someone who the prime minister described as possessing "extraordinary legal insights, clarity and erudition", along with, "discipline, structure, efficiency and timeliness", all of which highly recommended him for the office (the PM's words), was not being fully appointed as chief justice of Jamaica. What more could the PM be looking for?

My question was answered when the PM went on to explain: "The public wants to see an efficient and timely justice system, and, above all else, that was my primary consideration. So, I am confident that Justice Sykes will act in the role of chief justice and very soon will fully assume the role of chief justice." Mr Holness added, "... Actions that bring results will determine the assumption."

While penning this piece, I checked out the Ministry of Justice (Supreme Court) website and couldn't help but notice this posting from the outgoing chief justice Zaila McCalla ... the relevant section reads, "Our courts play an essential role in protecting our constitutional rights to equal and due process under the law. Both criminal and civil courts provide the opportunity for the parties to have their cases heard by neutral judges and/or juries. This process ensures that all cases are decided in a fair and consistent manner. Based on the role of the court, it is fair to say that courts are at the nucleus of the justice system. Therefore, a healthy court system is important to a healthy justice system.

"A strong and independent judiciary is at the core of democracy. It has been said that if you want to measure the level of freedom in any country, the first thing to be determined is whether that nation's judiciary is truly independent, from other branches of government and from all other influences of power, because ultimately a free society depends upon a judiciary that is loyal only to the law. Our judiciary is committed to performing their role skilfully and impartially."

It appears to many of us that the full appointment of Justice Sykes to the post of chief justice, for which he is supremely qualified and eminently suited, is inexorably linked to stipulations imposed by the PM and, perhaps other government members (politicians).

The role of the Government is to find someone who is qualified for the job, proficient, honest, trustworthy, experienced, dedicated, and who has leadership qualities. Appoint said individual and leave him/her to get on with the job. Imposing conditions and stipulations for delivering certain desired results before being appointed is de facto a probation imposed by politicians.

 

EUROPEAN UNION CONCERNS

 

In his defence, the PM spoke to European Union concerns for funds that have been spent on our justice system without proportionate and objective results to show for their efforts. He also spoke to the call for him to review such appointments and lamented the criticisms levelled at him for doing so. Both admissions only serve to strengthen the belief that the PM has ulterior motives for only appointing this chief justice in an acting role.

Justice Sykes is indeed under probation. Who will be put on probation next?

The PM's actions erode the public's confidence in the chief justice, undermine his authority and autonomy, and risk him feeling answerable to politicians first and the law second. No chief justice should be put in that position.

In spite of his many years of experience, in spite of his numerous qualifications, in spite of his outstanding record, in spite of his uniqueness, he is put on probation as if he is not ready and perhaps not capable.

In order to achieve such heights in the job or profession, these individuals are part of a rare breed. They are among the elite in their field and are extremely good at what they do. No authority figure should be treated as if he/she is a deficient individual in need of control/monitoring/assessment. In fact, they already know of the problems within their respective organisations, and many of those problems require assistance from the Government.

With that in mind, the authorities should work with these people and not publicly expose them to diminution or ridicule. Many of our citizens have already lost respect for themselves, their fellow countrymen and for politicians. Woe be unto us if they lose respect for the authority figures that keep us from anarchy.

Garth A. Rattray is a medical doctor with a family practice. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and garthrattray@gmail.com.