Sun | Feb 25, 2018

Orville Taylor | Justice again

Published:Sunday | January 7, 2018 | 12:00 AM

Finally, someone has taken the foot off the head of parish court judge Judith Pusey and apparently forgiven her for the white fowl that she might have eaten. Perhaps it might have been the black rooster, but of course, that might suggest other connotations.

Nonetheless, for the inordinate number of the years that she sat on the lower bench I couldn't help but wonder if something wasn't afoul. Bypassed more times than a merchant's utilities meter, Pusey now joins two other parish court judges who are elevated to act as puisne judges. Three acting puisne judges have been confirmed in their positions, while another has been appointed as master-in-chambers.

Inasmuch as I have always questioned Pusey's hold on the lower bench, there has been a persistent discomfort that I have felt as regards her peers and others on the same level and her seniors. From where I sit, and having gone to school and spent a year with two cohorts of law students, including Pusey's class, the personnel whom we call 'yer anna', 'milady' and 'milud' are an uneven, motley crew. Having listened to some of them outside of the courthouses and the few times that I have been inside, there are too many judges who do not impress me. Indeed, there are persons who have left the judicature who have me wondering how they got there in the first instance. Pusey and many others have my full respect.

Mark you; don't let any duppy fool you, inasmuch as I have an overall satisfaction with the dispensing of justice in Jamaica, I do not have any notion of judges being pristine and flawless and doubtless. There needs to be absolute clarity and openness in the recruitment, promotion and overall activities of our judges. True, we cannot have complete equality in abilities and knowledge. However, we must be relatively confident that the level of variance is not so great that judges are 'outliers'. It is indispensable that in a young democracy as ours we have relative consistence and predictability among our judges.

There are too many anecdotes about attorneys who, of course, went to school with many of the judges and who belonged to the same bar association, doing 'judge hopping' as they seek more favourable treatment for their clients. The public needs to be assured that the persona of the judge has very little to do with the administration of justice.

Indeed, I am still confident that the survey conducted by Transparency International in 2013, which says that six per cent of Jamaicans say that they have paid a bribe to a judge and 12 per cent to police officers, is true. I would like to do a qualitative and quantitative evaluation of the judgments and awards made by the various members of the judiciary, including their proclivity to give or not allow bail for accused persons.

In academics, policing, teaching and many other 'less prestigious' professions and occupations, it is possible to make these evaluations. Does the Judicial Services Commission or the chief justice give any oversight to such indicators? Perhaps it is because of the variation in matters such as bail and sentencing that has led to a sitting minister threatening to propose legislation which removes discretion from judges when bail might be considered for major crimes such as murder and gun possession.

 

BIPARTISAN SUPPORT

 

At a time when Justice Minister Delroy Chuck continues to rev up the argument that judges need to be timelier with their judgments, he is shying away from the justified and rational proposal that the next chief justice must be chosen from of a pool of suitably qualified persons who have applied. Certainly, no one begrudges the prime minister the ultimate right to select a candidate with bipartisan support. However, the public would be better served if it were to know if other applicants of similar or greater stature were rejected. The public already knows my views on the use of psychometric and polygraph tests for the incoming judges, including his lordship or her ladyship. This is because if the senior bureaucrats including the police high command have to be so tested, then it is sauce for the gander, given that the position of judge is far more critical to the overall dispensing of justice on this rock.

Nevertheless, as President of the Court of Appeal Justice Dennis Morrison, a man who earned my respect for his wisdom and intelligence from when he was a practising attorney, pointed out, perhaps the most obvious 'no-brainer' is that the number of judges in the lower courts doubled since independence. Yet, in the Court of Appeal the figure has remained constant. Add to this the increase in arrests and vigorous prosecution of offenders and the burden on the courts is more than obvious.

Other infrastructural issues also need to be addressed. Not only are some of the courtrooms aesthetically unpleasing, but some simple facilities which have done their time need upgrading.

For me, as a behaviour scientist who focuses on human resources development, what we need for the judiciary is the same decent work agenda. Transparent employment practices, consistent rules and standards regarding their promotion as well as appropriate oversight. A country is only as good as its justice system because it is what guards us against anarchy.

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