Sat | Aug 18, 2018

An appeal to the Bench

Published:Sunday | January 4, 2015 | 12:00 AMErica Virtue
Chief Justice Zaila McCalla

The failure of some judges to provide written judgments in a timely manner is hurting scores of Jamaicans who are spending months and at times years in prison without being able to appeal their

convictions or sentences.

The Sunday Gleaner has learnt that some judges have gone into retirement without handing down the written judgments for more than 10 years, and some persons have died without the benefit of the written judgments to further their case.

A group of attorneys who spoke to our news team last week said they were among many waiting on the written judgments on cases done in the last decade.

The frustrated attorneys charged that the Jamaican Bar Association, the professional organisation of which they are members, has received several complaints about these tardy judges.

"This rubbish must stop. I know at least 10 attorneys awaiting written judgments. One of the cases which, thank God, has been settled, involved a matrimonial issue and the complainant wanted to appeal. By the time it was finally handed down she died," said one of the attorneys who asked not to be named.

"I personally know judges who have retired to rahtid, and the judgments are still outstanding. The chief justice, I am sure, is aware of the problem, but it remains the same. In any Commonwealth jurisdiction where this is not done after six months maximum, this constitutes judicial misconduct," said another attorney, as he noted that judicial misconduct is grounds for the dismissal of a judge.

President of the Bar Association, Donovan Walker, admitted that the delay in handing down written judgments by some judges is a concern, but said significant progress has been made in securing some of the outstanding judgments through efforts involving Chief Justice Zaila McCalla.

"For quite some time, even before I became president, it has been a problem that we have discussed at the Bar Council, that there are some judges who have delayed writing and presenting judgments. So yes, some have had judgments outstanding for years," said Walker.

Concerns raised with judges

He said through regular meetings with the chief justice, the concerns of the attorneys have been pointed out to the judges at all levels.

"The chief justice said it would be helpful if a list of outstanding judgments was provided. Consequently, the Bar Association emailed members asking for such a list of outstanding judgments. We received a list of about 40 cases, and we sent the list to the chief justice. My understanding is that most of those cases have been cleared up," Walker told The Sunday Gleaner.

He lauded McCalla for her effort in securing the outstanding judgments, but said the Bar Association is under the impression that "perhaps hundreds of judgments are outstanding over the years".

"The Bar Association is of the view that a number of attorneys don't want to write because they are fearful of retribution or reprisal. So we have arranged for the attorneys to write to us and we send it to the chief justice. However, some attorneys have also told us they do not complain because their clients asked them not to," said Walker.

"But of those we got, some judgments were outstanding for about eight to 10 years; one or two of the judges retired and left the Bench not having written the judgments, but one thing that should be noted is that while there are unacceptable numbers of cases that are outstanding, to be fair to the system, most of the judgments are delivered within a reasonable time. But there are a few judges whose names constantly repeat with outstanding judgments," stated Walker.