Thu | Aug 17, 2017

Laws of Eve | Fresh and welcome approach by the Court of Appeal

Published:Monday | August 15, 2016 | 8:00 AM

One of the most frequent complaints about the Jamaican justice system is the lengthy delays in resolving matters. Quite often, the extent and sources of delays cannot be properly identified because there are no available statistics or reports from which the information can be gathered.

The Court of Appeal has taken a fresh and welcome approach by publishing the Court of Appeal's Annual report for 2015. This puts the issues of that court in proper perspective.

Below, I will highlight some of the important features of the Report, which is accessible to the public on the Court of Appeal's website - www.courtofappeal.gov.jm:

• The complement of judges in the Court of Appeal (the court) was last increased to seven in 1967. During almost 50 years since, Jamaica's population has increased by more than one million, and the number of puisne judges and parish judges (formerly resident magistrates) from whom appeals are made to the court has increased by more than 65!

• The Judicature (Appellate Jurisdiction) Act was amended in 2008 to increase the number of judges in the court to 13, including the president, but the court still has only seven judges.

• Even if the number of judges in the court reached its maximum capacity, there is no physical space in the existing building to accommodate the new judges as the planned removal of the Accountant General's Department is yet to materialise.

• One hundred and sixty written judgements (including criminal, civil, and applications) were delivered in the 40 weeks during which the court sat in 2015, and 37 judgements are still outstanding for that same period. (There are 10 judgements still outstanding for the period 2011 to 2014.)

• Cases pending at the start of 2015 were 1,388. Two hundred and forty-nine new appeals were filed during the year, and with 186 cases being disposed of, 1,451 cases were pending at the end of the year.

• When criminal appeals are filed in the court, transcripts must be provided, and when civil appeals are filed, the record of appeal must be prepared and submitted to the court, and there are delays in the delivery of those documents to the court. In fact, of the 1,451 pending cases, 621 criminal transcripts and civil records are outstanding.

• Basic equipment such as computers, fax machines, scanner, and printers need to be replaced, and there is need for additional storage space.

• Perhaps the best news in the report is that every judge is assigned a judicial clerk, who is a trained attorney at law, to assist in research and other areas.

Perhaps the issues confronting the court are captured in this statement by the president: " ... it remains a matter of notorious fact that the court is under-resourced and the judges who staff it hopelessly overworked." The picture is grim, and there is one further fact that the report would not reveal, but which must not be overlooked: the court will not continue to attract or to retain the most talented and brightest judges if they are not properly remunerated.

The justice system needs to become priority, with adequate funding allocated to its work, if efforts to achieve economic growth are to be ineffective.

- Sherry-Ann McGregor is a partner and mediator in the firm of Nunes Scholefield DeLeon & Co. Please send questions and comments to lawsofeve@gmail.com or lifestyle@gleanerjm.com.