Courthouse charged - Justice Minister promises improvements as complaints mount about Sutton Street RM Court
Struggling to avoid the pelting rays of the midday sun, the elderly woman sought any shade she could find but there was precious little under a makeshift tent erected at the Sutton Street Resident Magistrate's Court in downtown Kingston just over one week ago.
"I went inside to sit because the hearing is not good and the vehicles passing, so I cannot hear if they calling my name, but they sent me back out," said the elderly woman who was at the court trying to get an order to evict a tenant.
"She (court worker) said I had to sit outside and wait and I asked her if it is a long wait and she said, 'it's up to you'. If it was up to me I would have stayed at my yard," added the woman who did not give her name.
It was a similar story from Devon, who was also waiting under the sun-baked tent, cooled slightly by a mild breeze.
"I was here a few months ago and you were allowed to wait inside. They have now changed the system and put you outside under a tent, and it is hot and uncomfortable out here and inadequate to hold the number of persons," said Devon.
He charged that the pedestrian pace at which the court staff worked compounded his displeasure.
"The people here do not care at all. They supposed to start at 9:30 and they opened the gate about 9:45 and they were there. They just don't care. And when they open the gate you have a crowd and you have to fight to get to the point where they're giving out the numbers.
"They have an awful attitude; it is just obvious that they don't care. It is like we all are a bother to them. It is disdainful," added Devon.
"I came here last week in the morning and got number 45 and at 2:30 they had reached number 24; I just handed in back the number and left. It don't make sense; you can't spend the whole day sitting down outside here in the sun, on a hard seat," declared the young man.
Last week, the tent was taken down but that only made the wait more unbearable for those who could not fit inside the building.
But Justice Minister Mark Golding told The Sunday Gleaner that moves are being made to improve conditions at the civil court.
According to Golding, the work should have started already but has been delayed because of two failed tenders.
"The responses that we got were in excess of the appraised value that had been outlined by the engineer, whoever it is that had adjudicated it, so we couldn't proceed with those tenders," said Golding.
Tenders were too high
Permanent secretary in the Justice Ministry, Carol Palmer, agreed that the tenders were too high and opined that this could be because the entities included costs to cover the possibility of extortion on a worksite in the gritty downtown Kingston area.
"I just asked the staff to put a tent there in the interim to give some relief. But the intention is to have the property fully fenced, because we have been advised that undesirable persons have been attacking and coming on to persons who come to the court, and staff of the court.
"So there are some security and safety issues that we are trying to deal with," said Palmer.
"We intend to put up an adequate tent as part of the procurement that we are doing. We also intend to fence the property across the street, which will allow for parking for persons who come to use the court," added Palmer.
Responding to complaints about the quality of service at the court, Golding said a customer-service survey carried out last year had found that there is a problem, and it is something he will have to take up with the court management persons at Sutton Street.
"The court management offices are really responsible for training of staff and getting staff to adopt good customer-service practices, and this is something that is a work in progress, and at some places it is better than others," said Golding.