Tue | Sep 19, 2017

Judges and Chuck on collision course

Published:Monday | September 26, 2016 | 9:00 AMBarbara Gayle
Chief Justice Zaila McCalla (centre), Justice Minister Delroy Chuck (second right), and Custos of Kingston Steadman Fuller (right) participate in the annual Assize church service to mark the opening session of the Michaelmas term of the Home Circuit Court, under the theme 'Justice Matters' at the East Queen Street Baptist Church in Kingston yesterday.

Quiet for months as Delroy Chuck intensified his pressure for more quality work, judges in Jamaica's high courts will hold talks today in a special meeting called over the latest chastisement from the justice minister.

Last week, Chuck reiterated that judges, especially at the Supreme Court level, are taking too long to hand down judgments and pointed to cases in other countries where such a situation could result in members of the bench being cited for misconduct.

Chuck has suggested that judgments should be handed down within six months.

The Gleaner understands that Supreme Court judges are not happy with his comments and are meeting today to determine the necessary action, especially in light of problems they claim they are facing in doing their jobs

But not only the judges are facing problems. The court reporters who produce the official records in cases have been complaining bitterly that they do not have the necessary tools to do the job.

One of the complaints made by judges over the years is that there are not enough judges to handle the large number of criminal and civil cases.

Judges are appointed to replace those who have retired or are on vacation leave, but no additional judges have been appointed to increase the complement.

"There is much talk about what judges should do to clear the backlog, but nothing is being said about providing ways and means to improve the justice system," one judge said.

The judges cannot access law reports online to assist them with precedents in writing their judgments as it is reported that the authorities have stopped paying for Internet access.

The judges also say they need more judicial clerks to assist them with their research.

They have also been complaining that because they have to be in court every day, they have very little time to write judgments and have to do so at home.

They feel that an increase in the number of judges would give them more time to write judgments.

Increase in salary is one of the issues likely to be discussed at the meeting.

The judges have been waiting since early last year for the increase but can get no favourable report about it.

Some judges say they were just being given excuses about the salary increase, and with the new taxation package, they are now earning less.

Meanwhile, some of the air-conditioning units at the courthouse have not been functioning for months. The elevator in the new courthouse is also out of service, while the building is without water almost on a weekly basis.

Court staff have also pointed to "insufficient computers and lack of the proper software and computer desks and chairs".

The court reporters say their complaints over the years have gone unheeded and they are calling for the justice minister to meet with them to hear their grouses and provide solutions.

barbara.gayle@gleanerjm.com