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26-year wait for justice - Civil suit filed in 1988 finally settled

Published:Sunday | April 19, 2015 | 12:00 AMBarbara Gayle
Chief Justice Zaila McCalla

Justice has finally arrived for four persons who had to wait 26 years for their case to be completed in the Supreme Court.

The long delay has been described by some lawyers as "scandalous" as they argued that no one should have to wait for more than a quarter of a century to get a decision in a case.

This case was brought before the court in 1988 by four men from Bamboo, St Ann, against security guard Carl Sterling and a hotel development company. The case could not be heard for more than 10 years because the file could not be located in the civil registry at the Supreme Court.

It was reported in 1993 that the file could not be found, and that prompted the lawyers representing the claimants to write numerous letters to court officials. The file was subsequently located in 2013 and the parties agreed in January 2014 that the case should go to mediation. The case was recently settled in favour of the claimants.

Attorneys-at-law Linton Gordon and Tamiko Smith, who represented the claimants, last week said despite the long delay they are happy there was a successful resolution of the matter.

 

Fed up with delay

 

Linton told The Sunday Gleaner that some of the claimants were fed up with the long delay and often expressed the desire to give up. However, one of the men kept motivating the others to press forward to the end.

The claim arose out of an incident on August 11, 1987, when the men were accompanying someone to the airport in Montego Bay, St James. The flight was delayed and they decided 'to kill time' by going to a beach to sit and relax.

There was no indication that it was a private beach, and while the men were there a security guard came up and began beating the men, causing serious injuries to them. One of the men, Bertram Kelly of Bamboo, St Ann, died from the beating. Sterling was subsequently arrested and charged with his murder.

After the suit was filed, the company had filed a defence that it was not liable for the action of the security guard.

Sterling was convicted in the St James Circuit Court in September 1989 for Kelly's murder and was sentenced to hang. He appealed to the Court of Appeal which dismissed his appeal in December 1990. He then appealed to the United Kingdom Privy Council but his appeal was dismissed in May 1992. Sterling's death sentence was subsequently commuted to life imprisonment.

News of the long wait for justice in this case left members of the legal profession fuming, and this was compounded by indications that a number of other matters have been before the courts for more than seven years.

"Three years is a reasonable period for civil cases to be disposed of," declared Patrick Foster, QC, as he argued that Jamaicans should not have to wait for decades to have their cases decided.

Foster is calling on the authorities to provide the courts with the resources and appropriate technology so they can function more efficiently.

 

Justice denied

 

Howard Hamilton, QC, described the long wait for justice as totally unacceptable. "Justice delayed is justice denied," added Hamilton.

Attorney-at-law Hugh Wildman, in commenting on the long wait for justice, described the situation as "more than scandalous". He was sceptical as to what justice could be administered in those

circumstances.

Wildman pointed out that

people's memories would fade after so many years and persons could be denied justice not because of their fault but because of the fault of the system.

Chief Justice Zaila McCalla last Friday admitted that there were some glitches in the system, but argued that as soon as the Civil Registry is moved to the new section of the courthouse on King Street where there is adequate space, they will be able to keep the files under lock and key.

The delay in relocating the registry has been linked to the absence of the necessary infrastructure in the new building.