Jamaica Observer / The Government yesterday, in a statement responding to the concerns of judges who met at the Supreme Court Monday, said the Cabinet, chaired by Prime Minister Andrew Holness, reaffirms separation of powers and judicial independence and accountability. The statement said:
THE Government has taken note of the statement made by a group of judges who met on Monday, representing a summit of the Judicial Arm of Government.
Administration of Justice
The Cabinet welcomes the acknowledgement by the judges that there are concerns about “inefficiencies, deficiencies and delays” in the justice system, and agreed that much more needs to be done for timely justice outcomes.
The Cabinet does not doubt the commitment of our judges, some of whom are amongst the best in the world, to attain a more “efficient and effective” justice system.
We accept the observation of the judges that, “although the judicial branch of Government is independent and should remain so, it is also accountable to the public”[i]. This statement reaffirms the very important point that all arms of Government are accountable to the public. This accountability is ultimately expressed through an election of a Government and the formation of an Executive to execute public policy.
The public policy objective of the Government is “strengthening of the rule of law and timely justice outcomes”. This sets the context and forms the boundary and extent of our interest in the operations of the justice system. In our governance arrangements, the Judicial arm, specifically the Office of the Chief Justice, shares some administrative responsibility for achieving these outcomes of public policy. This requires, amongst other considerations, that the justice system and the judiciary, like all other public services, must intensify their reform efforts to provide a more efficient, accessible and effective justice service, while delivering value for money for taxpayers and development partners.
The Cabinet, therefore, welcomes the declared desirability and support from the judges for “continued modernisation of the judicial system, continued focus on efficient criminal and civil case management, allowance for scheduled time to write judgements, and the increasing use of technology to enhance efficiency”[ii]. We believe every Jamaican would like to see actions and results in these areas of the justice system and will hold us accountable.
The Cabinet is well aware and agrees with the judges on the need for greater resources to be allocated to the justice system. It is the intention of the Government to make further investments in the justice system to support our number one medium-term strategic priority, which is the strengthening of the rule of law and timely justice outcomes. However, the Government maintains, that there are further efficiency gains possible through reforms in the use of current levels of funding to the justice system.
Separation of Powers and the Independence of the Judiciary
The Cabinet respects and reaffirms the principles of separation of powers and the independence of the judiciary in strengthening the Rule of Law. However, it must be noted that judicial efficiency and accountability are also critical to the rule of law.
The declaration by the judges is unprecedented in our governance arrangements, considering that other avenues were available to resolve the matters raised. The Government acknowledges the right and duty of the judges to zealously safeguard and preserve their judicial independence and the separation of powers. Notwithstanding, this must be done in such a way that does not undermine another arm of the State, negatively impact the economy, or compromise the rule of law.
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.
In the prime minister’s remarks at the swearing-in ceremony of Justice Sykes, he made a certain comment which has been taken out of context and used to create a non-existent threat to the independence of the judiciary. 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.
Prime Minister Holness shares the fears expressed by our learned judges in their declaration that, “in light of recent developments, some have lost sight of the crucial need to ensure that the three arms of Government function together in a way that is complementary of each other”[iii].
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.
[i] declaration on separation of powers (Para 8)
[ii] declaration on separation of powers (Para 16)
[iii] declaration on separation of powers (Para 9)