Editorial: Provide whole strategy for justice
The initiative unveiled more than a week ago by Chief Justice Zaila McCalla to deal with the backlog of cases in Jamaica's Supreme Court has already been endorsed by this newspaper, but we still look forward to the outlay of a broader, and obviously coherent, strategy for addressing the crisis in this critical area of governance.
We do not suggest that things are not being done. They appear, though, to be in isolation, with little clarity for most people on how it all hangs together. The result is a continued and worsening strain on confidence in the justice system.
Addressing the Hilary session of the Home Circuit Court - for which 522 cases are on the calendar - Justice McCalla announced her establishment of a special court, with two judges to deal with cases that have been in the system for more than five years. These cases are to be monitored assiduously until they are disposed of.
No one could reasonably argue with this project, but as lawyers are wont to say, we feel there is need for further and better particulars on this matter. The first of these is whether this court applies only to the Home Circuit, for which the director of public prosecutions (DPP), Paula Llewellyn, says there are approximately 500 with the eligible dateline. Indeed, in the last Home Circuit term, 578 criminal cases were on the list, of which only 72 were disposed. The others were traversed to the current session.
If the cases are not cleared faster than new ones join the queue, it is possible that Justice McCalla's special court will soon be just another court, dealing with cases with dockets bearing at least five-year mould. It is, therefore, necessary to be clear whether this court also applies to the other parish circuits, or whether special arrangements are being put in place for them. It would be useful to know, too, what strategies are being employed by the DPP, in conjunction with the private Bar, to extract the greatest value from the initiative.
It is unfortunate, in the circumstance, that the DPP, who suggests she was unaware of the plan, was not consulted prior to the announcement to allow for better coordination of the project. That, hopefully, will prove to be only a minor irritation to the advancement of the arrangement.
Yet, even if Justice McCalla's initiative works well, it will not fix the problem with the delivery of justice in Jamaica. Of the more than 200,000 cases backed up in the Supreme Court system, a large chunk of that is in its civil division, where cases can languish for well over a decade before being completed. None of this is good for the rule of law or for the conduct of business, and a country seeking economic investment, for which a reliable mechanism for resolving legal disputes is important.
Importantly, too, a similar number of cases as are stuck in the High Court languish in the magistracies, where the majority of disputes are heard and settled, and ordinary people interface with the justice system and often leave with the perception that it doesn't work for them. Ultimately, they lose confidence in it. That is why people should be afforded a holistic view of the strategy to heal justice.