Sat | Jan 16, 2021

Editorial | Celebrating women at forefront of justice

Published:Saturday | January 9, 2021 | 12:05 AM

It was truly an extraordinary sight – a photograph of 10 recently promoted judges – of which nine of them are women. Jamaica’s continued gender-awakening in hitherto male-dominated fields, is nothing short of remarkable for a country that is 58 years old.

Women’s rise to the forefront of the justice system in Jamaica began with Chief Justice Zaila McCalla’s appointment in 2007, when she walked through the door which was opened by other distinguished jurists and, as we now observe, that door has remained open since.

We are reminded of these words uttered by a wise commentator: “A strong woman stands up for herself – a stronger woman stands up for everybody else.” We would commend these words to our newly appointed judges, because their help is desperately needed to solve the pandemic of family/domestic violence that is threatening to overwhelm us.

Many Jamaican women trapped in toxic relationships are looking for someone to stand up for them. Children who are being abused in their own homes by their relatives are looking for someone to stand up for them. With more women in judicial leadership, we hope domestic violence will not be viewed as a personal issue between families, for when it erupts, it endangers the broader society. Moreover, we believe the law should be applied equally to all.

The Task Ahead

Newly appointed Appeals Court Judge Vivene Harris, whose judicial journey included a short sojourn in The Gleaner’s newsroom, spoke of the task before them.

“Even in these unprecedented and unpredictable times, we the members of the judiciary must prevail and carry on with our core business of dispensing justice and meeting our mandate of providing sound, timely judgments and efficient court services to the people of Jamaica, whom we serve,” she said.

Yes, indeed, even during this raging pandemic, the justice system has to be flexible and continue to provide access to justice, in order to protect the most vulnerable among us. Justice Harris spoke of the need for them to be given access to the latest developments in technology, so that the quality and delivery of services can be enhanced.

“Technology serves to modernise the courts by impacting the way we work, transmit, store and retrieve data and making justice more accessible, transparent, as well as less costly. Ease of access to justice promotes public trust and confidence in the administration of justice, which is at the very core of the functioning of the court,” Harris said, adding that while it will be very costly, it is absolutely essential.

We hope young people looking to pursue a judicial career will recognise that the judiciary is the final arbiter in the justice chain and will be inspired by the stories of these new appointees.

The Judiciary Services Commission is the body charged with recommending judicial appointments to the governor general. The process is mostly done without fanfare, unlike in the United States, for example, where judicial appointments to the federal bench can be very contentious. The US president picks federal judges. To be precise, the president nominates the judge and the Senate carries out the confirmation. The stakes are very high in this process because, in many ways, the most lasting legacy of any presidency is the judges they leave behind. Political connections, therefore, play a huge role in these appointments.

If anyone observed the way Donald Trump patted Amy Coney Barrett on the back after her controversial nomination on the eve of the November elections, one may reasonably conclude that the president held very high expectations of his pick.

Thankfully, our process of appointing judges is devoid of all that drama. We expect our women judges to be robust in their approach while displaying the utmost integrity, for that will help to strengthen credibility in the judicial process.