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Probing Justice | Judges still demanding justice - Poor working conditions, inadequate remuneration still hurting

Published:Friday | December 22, 2017 | 12:00 AMBarbara Gayle
Chief Justice Zaila McCalla will demit office next year.

Judges in the Supreme Court are far from satisfied with the conditions under which they have to work. The judges are also concerned about a shortage of office space and what they still believe is inadequate remuneration for their heavy workload despite an increase this year.

"In this day and age there are still judges who have no chambers and have to be jostling for chambers when other judges go out to circuit courts in other parishes," one judge told The  Gleaner.

"One would have thought that with the opening of the other courthouse (the additional space provided at 52-54 King Street), there would be more than enough space for the judges, but sadly, it is not so," added the judge.
The judges are also not satisfied with the amount they are being paid despite an almost $200 million hike in their for salary package in July to cover the past three years.

Chief Justice Zaila McCalla told The Gleaner recently it is difficult to get lawyers from the private bar to apply for posts on the Bench because the salary was not attractive to them and the workload was too much.

"I don't think judges will ever be adequately paid, but they do expect a reasonable remuneration because when we look at other countries their workload is far less, and their salaries are way above those of our Jamaican judges," said McCalla.

They judges are also upset with Minister of Justice Delroy Chuck’s who has recently stepped up the pressure on them to deliver timely judgments.

Chuck has insisted that six months is a reasonable timeline to expect the judges to hand down judgments even though he has so far shied away from proposing any action to punish judges who fail to meet the timeline.

“Other jurisdictions have enacted legislation to determine time standards and other judicial functions,” said Chuck recently.

 “I shall continue to use moral suasion to urge the timely delivery of judgements and hope that I will see less complaint letters coming across my desk on a daily basis,” added Chuck.

But the judges told our news team that they are not to be blamed.

"Written judgments can be handed down expeditiously if we are given all the tools and resources necessary to do the job," said one judge.

Other judges claimed that some of the computers in their chambers were not functioning properly and their requests for the computers to be serviced or to be replaced have fallen on deaf ears.                                  

"There are just about 10 judicial clerks and with 36 judges, it is a fact that more than half of us do not have judicial clerks to do research to assist us  in writing judgments. So, between presiding in Circuit Courts, Gun Court, civil cases, chamber matters, including divorces , judges have to write judgments at nights or on weekends when there are no seminars to attend,” said one judge.

 “There is much talk about delays but no consideration is being given to the fact that the courts are flooded with cases and judges have a heavy workload," he added.

The members of the Bench pointed out that there is one secretary assigned to four judges and that was not fair to the judges or the secretaries who have the task of typing the handwritten notes of judges.

According to one judge, there have been requests for them to be given time out of court to write judgments but they have been told it was not possible because of the volume of work.

"I really don't agree that judgments should take years to be handed down but there should be a rule that when a judge is retiring then that judge should be given a six-month break from civil cases before retirement just to write the outstanding judgments," one judge opined.

"The real problem is that over the years the Government has not paid enough attention to the justice system to ensure that judges have  the tools to do the job," said another judge.

"Every one of us work hard and have very little time at home to spend with our families because most of our time is spent researching, reading case files  and writing judgments ," the judge added.