Probing Justice | Appealing for judges - Shortage of blamed for pile-up of appellate cases
Seven judges - three puisne judges, three acting puisne judges, and a master-in-chamber - will be sworn in to serve in the Supreme Court today, but that will do nothing to reduce the backlog of cases at the Court of Appeal, whose president has charged that a shortage of judges is a major problem.
"We have had seven judges for the last 50 years, while the pool of courts from which we get cases has expanded significantly," Dennis Morrison, president of the Court of Appeal, told The Gleaner recently.
Morrison noted that over the same 50-year period, the number of judges in the Supreme Court and the parish courts has more than doubled but not so in the Court of Appeal.
"Our number remains the same, while the population of the country has also nearly doubled since Independence, and the crime rate has gone up, as is painfully obvious, exponentially," added Morrison.
He pointed out that in addition to appeals from the lower courts, there are appeals from the Disciplinary Committee of the General Legal Council and other disciplinary bodies such as those concerning surveyors and accountants, which come before the Court of Appeal.
Morrison noted that there is currently a large number of appeals from the Gun Court, which came into existence in the mid-1970s.
In expressing concern over the Government's neglect to make adequate provisions for an increase in the number of appellate judges over the years, Morrison drew a reference to Trinidad and Tobago, where 12 appellate judges serve half Jamaica's population.
He noted that in Barbados and The Bahamas, four appellate judges are barely able to manage in populations of approximately 10 per cent and 12 per cent Jamaica's size, respectively.
The Court of Appeal president said that despite the amended legislation in 2008 to allow for the appointment of up to six more appellate judges, it has not materialised because of lack of space at the court building on King Street in downtown Kingston.
Last June, several years after the proposal to relocate the Accountant General's Department to allow for the expansion of the Court of Appeal was first mooted, that department finally moved into more suitable refurbished accommodation closer to the Waterfront.
The plan now is for the space formerly occupied by the Accountant General's Department to be renovated to provide additional space for the Court of Appeal.
Morrison is hoping that construction will start early this year and that the much-needed space can be available by September to allow for the appointment of the additional judges.
He noted that the judges have no control over when the construction would be completed.