Wed | Dec 19, 2018

Laws of Eve | Pointers for the new chief justice

Published:Monday | February 5, 2018 | 12:00 AM
Retired Chief Justice of Jamaica Zaila McCalla (right) welcomes the new acting Chief Justice Bryan Sykes after a special sitting of the Supreme Court in downtown Kingston last Wednesday.

Last week, the Supreme Court saw a changing of the guard, with the retirement of Chief Justice Zaila McCalla after 10 years at the helm and the swearing-in of Justice Brian Sykes as Chief Justice until further advised.

Chief Justice Sykes will have no honeymoon, but I doubt that he expects one. In random order, a few of my colleagues and I think that the following things need to be addressed to help to improve the justice system.

• Increase the allocation of resources to the justice system. The justice ministry is allocated approximately 1 per cent of the national budget each fiscal year, and it is inadequate.

• Extend the sittings of circuit courts in some parishes. This would go a far way towards reducing the backlog of criminal cases in the courts.

- Encourage greater use of criminal case management and minimise mention dates when witnesses and accused persons are repeatedly paraded in court.

- Encourage more judges to deliver oral judgments. In this way, the delays in delivering judgments can be minimised and perhaps even eliminated.

- Assign a judicial clerk to each judge. The judicial clerks are trained lawyers who can assist judges with research and to write judgments.

- Copy and paste the model of efficiency in the Commercial Division of the Supreme Court into the regular civil division so that cases an be better managed in a more timely fashion. A file should be managed by the same judge from case management to pretrial review, rather than floating from one judge to another.

- Establish a Family Division in the Supreme Court, so that the jurisprudence in this area can develop more uniformly and judges who have through knowledge of, and an interest in, the area are assigned to hear matters.

- Improve the timelines for the grants of Probate, Letters of Administration and divorces.

- The administrative processes of entering judgments, signing enforcement orders and taxing costs needs to move more quickly.

- Ensure that a judge is always available to hear urgent applications, such as injunctions. In many cases, when an application for an injunction is made, an entire day can be spent just trying to identify a judge to hear the application.

- Identify the weaknesses in the Court's Registry and, where necessary, redeploy resources to ensure that the right persons are carrying out the functions for which they are best suited.

- Introduce electronic filing of documents in the Civil Division.

- Review the rostering of judges so that some judges are not overburdened by having to hear several complex matters in quick succession.

- Ensure that when matters are scheduled for hearing that judges are assigned to hear them, and the files are located prior to the hearing.

- Encourage judges to adhere to judicial guidelines so that all users of the justice system have referable standards which they expect to be maintained.

This list is by no means exhaustive, because there is much that needs to be addressed.

     - 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.