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Courts disrupted as judges stay off bench in protest

The island’s court system was shut down in dramatic fashion Monday morning as judges stayed off the bench to voice their concerns over several issues.

While it has not been officially stated, speculation is rife that the protest is partly over the controversial decision of Prime Minister Andrew Holness to appoint Bryan Sykes to act as Chief Justice.

The slow pace of salary negotiations and general conditions of work are also said to be reasons why the justices stayed away from the court rooms Monday morning.

The move is likely to add to the already stifling backlog of cases in the country’s court system. Up to midday, the judges were locked in a meeting at the Supreme Court in downtown Kingston.

Cases scheduled for this morning at the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal were postponed because of the unavailability of judges.

The appointment of Sykes by Holness to act as Chief Justice in the position left vacant with the retirement of Zaila McCalla, has been widely condemned as unconstitutional and meddling in the affairs of the judiciary in breach of the principle of separation of powers.

Despite the criticism, Holness has not reversed his decision, arguing that he was from a different era and did things differently. He has insisted that Sykes serve a probationary period and be held accountable to the taxpayers of Jamaica.

Justice Minister Delroy Chuck has argued that the appointment was not unconstitutional while Attorney General Marlene Malahoo Forte has said on TV that Sykes may not even be confirmed in the position.

Among those criticising the Prime Minister are civil society groups, from academia, the parliamentary opposition, the Jamaican Bar Association and even international jurists - all arguing that Sykes is eminently qualified and as such should not have been put on probation.

 

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