Sat | Dec 3, 2016

Judgement on judges

Published:Sunday | January 4, 2015 | 12:00 AM
In this 2009 photo, Chief Justice Zaila McCalla inspects the guard of honour during the opening of the Home Circuit Court on King Street in downtown Kingston.-File
Donovan Walker
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Bar Association wants stiff sanctions against delinquent members of the Bench

Erica Virtue, Senior Gleaner Writer

The Jamaican Bar Association, which represents lawyers, wants the proposed Judicial Code of Conduct to include specific sanctions that would discipline judges, especially repeat offenders who fail to hand down written judgments within a specific time.

Donovan Walker, president of the Bar Association, says this issue is among a number of matters being discussed with Chief Justice Zaila McCalla.

It (Judicial Code of Conduct) has, inter alia, that judges must deliver judgments within a specific period of time, and if they have to go beyond that time then they need to give an explanation, Walker told The Sunday Gleaner.

According to Walker, while he could not state definitively what is the time period in which judgments must be delivered, the Bar Association is adamant that the Code of Conduct must come with sanctions.

So if judges dont do certain things, then these are grounds for certain kinds of penalties, whether it is suspension or dismissal, or maybe a three strikes and you are out policy. Now, our concerns with those guidelines is that though they are good and do set out a good road map for judicial conduct, and what is proper to expect from our judiciary, it would be good if they direct sanctions that would be applicable to judges who habitually breach the rules, said Walker.

NOT THE EASIEST THING

He noted that judges are protected by the Constitution, and admittedly, its not the easiest thing to remove a sitting judge.

Citing the case of Jamaican Justice Priya Levers, about whom a tribunal in the Cayman Island sought her removal for misconduct, he said the case went to the Privy Council, which upheld the decision of the tribunal called to investigate her removal.

What is good about the case is that it highlighted, in great details, the circumstances under which judges can be removed and what amounts to misconduct. Our Constitution speaks to a judge being dismissed for incapacity, whether physical or mental, which is really a question of fact. If you are sick, whether mentally or physically, and you cant function at all, then thats easy.

You get a doctor to say so. But in terms of misconduct, that is somewhat more difficult. The question is, should delays in judgments, continuously doing it, amount to misconduct? The view of the Bar Association is definitely yes, said Walker.

If you can identify judges who are habitually late or laggard in writing judgments, that perhaps should amount to judicial misconduct. Up to a few years ago, there wasnt a Judicial Code of Conduct, so what amount to judicial misconduct, the judge could say I really didnt know I was to give judgments within a certain period of time, he explained.

According to Walker, the courts now do not have the power or resources to produce statistics, or an officer to provide statistics on the average length of time a judge takes to deliver a judgment.

One thing that could be useful is for those statistics to be available. And I know that the chief justice has asked Justice Minister Mark Golding to make resources available to allow her to put these statistics in. Its good for transparency, its good for the media to have this information and its good for the system, he argued.

He said such information would provide entities like the media with the ability to rate judges for transparency and accountability.

Golding subsequently told our news team that the collection of case data and the production of statistics on the courts are areas that are being strengthened under the Justice Undertakings for Social Transformation.