Thu | Nov 23, 2017

Crisis in courts - DPP slaps legislators for failing to understand justice system concerns

Published:Thursday | October 19, 2017 | 12:00 AMLivern Barrett & Edmond Campbell
Paula Llewellyn

The nation's chief prosecutor, Paula Llewellyn, yesterday confronted lawmakers with a grim description of how justice is being dispensed in some criminal courts, particularly in rural areas, and told them bluntly that it was the result of a lack of vision by successive political administrations.

"Part of Jamaica's problem is the fact, and I say it, that the justice system has never been as sexy for you legislators as building a highway. Therefore, the resources have not been put in place over the last 30, 40 years," said Llewellyn, the director of public prosecutions.

"It is just unfortunate that over the last 30 years, there has not been a unified holistic vision by both political dispensations in respect of the justice system," she continued.

Legislators on the Public Administration and Appropriations Committee (PAAC) of Parliament sat in disbelief as Llewellyn and her deputy, Jeremy Taylor, explained how the nation's escalating crime rate and the shortage of courtroom space have contributed to the pile-up of cases now clogging the criminal courts.

Using St Elizabeth as an example, Taylor revealed that there is only one courtroom in Black River. As a result, he said, when the Circuit Court is in session in Black River, the Parish Court has to cease operation.

"Before that, the Parish Court used to sit in the bailiff's office," he noted.

Taylor revealed, too, that in St Elizabeth, jurors and persons in custody share the same room "because there is no holding area".

"When you need to make a submission in law, or when the jurors need to retire to consider a verdict, you have to empty the room of the custody person, put them to sit in the court while the jurors go in to deliberate," he revealed.

"That is the courthouse stock that we have," added Taylor.

The situation is no different in St Ann, according to Taylor, who said that the Parish Court is displaced when the Circuit Court is in session.

"You have not lived until you enter the St Ann Courthouse to see police fingerprinting persons right in front of a courtroom door and a holding area, which is under a staircase, where I share the same bathroom with a person in custody," he revealed.

"You can't be telling the truth!" committee member Fitz Jackson interjected, prompting a swift response from Llewellyn.

"Mr Member of Parliament, part of the problem is that the legislature of both political dispensations has been in a bubble where the administration of justice is concerned. We are in the trenches," she said.

"A lot of you really don't understand what it takes to run the justice system, so a lot has been taken for granted, so the courtroom stock has not really been enhanced with the requisite resources as it should have been," she told members of the PAAC during a sitting at Gordon House.

One member of the committee, Mikael Phillips, acknowledged that he was stunned by what he heard.

"This has been a wake-up call," he said.