Sat | Feb 17, 2018

Short-term justice - Days of long, drawn-out cases numbered, says chief justice

Published:Saturday | January 6, 2018 | 12:00 AMLivern Barrett
The judges who were sworn in yesterday pose for pictures with Dennis Morrison (fifth left), president of the Court of Appeal; Steadman Fuller (sixth left), custos of Kingston, deputising for Governor General Patrick Allen; and Zaila McCalla (seventh left), chief justice, shortly after they were sworn in to their new positions at King’s House, yesterday. The judges are (from left) Carolyn N.Tie, Stephanie A. Jackson- Haisley, Sonya M. Wint-Blair, Judith A. Pusey, Simone A.Y. Wolfe-Reece, Anne-Marie A. Nembhard, and Natalie T. Hart-Hines.
Judith A. Pusey with the Instrument of Appointment, which she received yesterday.
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The nation's outgoing chief justice yesterday delivered a parting shot to prosecutors and defence attorneys, warning that the days of the long, drawn-out trials with "excessive, irrelevant, and unnecessary cross-examinations" must become a thing of the past.

The warning by Zaila McCalla comes as the country's already overburdened court system continues to see what she described as a "deluge" of cases despite a number of initiatives that are aimed at reducing the backlog.

"The days of meandering through long trials with excessive, irrelevant, and unnecessary cross-examinations must be laid to rest as many other accused persons are languishing in custody, waiting for their cases to be tried," said McCalla, who demits office at the end of the month.

Jacqueline Cummings, president of the Jamaican Bar Association, agreed with the stance taken by the chief justice.

Cummings suggested, too, that in most cases, there is no longer the need to call a witness, during a murder trial, simply to confirm that the victim is dead.

"These are situations you don't need to call a witness to say that. The Bar Association supports any initiative that curtails lengthy trials," she said.

Other measures put in place by the judiciary to speed up criminal trials include Sentence-Reduction Day, which provides up to a 50 per cent discount in sentence for persons who plead guilty, and legislative framework for agreed facts or evidence that is not in dispute.

The backlog of cases before the Home Circuit Court stood at 910 at the close of the Michealmas Term last month, according to statistics compiled by the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions.

It includes 423 for sexual offences, 379 for murder, six each for manslaughter and attempted murder, 24 for wounding with intent, and 20 for abduction. The cases have been traversed to the court's Easter term, which begins on Monday.

McCalla confident of leaving behind strong judiciary

Outgoing Chief Justice Zaila McCalla, who was the main speaker during the swearing-in ceremony for seven Supreme Court judges and one master-in-chambers, yesterday, said that she was confident that she would be leaving behind a strong judiciary when she demits office.

The seven judges who were appointed to act as puisne judges include Judith Pusey, who has spent almost two decades in the lower tier of the court system.

"She has given yeoman service in the overburdened Parish Courts of Jamaica. The Judicial Services Commission has recommended that she be afforded the opportunity to serve at a higher level in our justice system," McCalla said.

The others are Simone Wolfe-Reece, Senior Parish Court judge, a former assistant director of public prosecutions, and daughter of former Chief Justice Lensley Wolfe; and Ann-marie Nemphard, also a senior Parish Court judge.

Three acting puisne judges were confirmed in their positions. They are Carolyn Tie, Stephanie Jackson-Haisley, and Sonya Wint-Blair. Senior Parish Court Judge Natalie Hart-Hines was appointed to act as master-in-chambers.

Tie, who spoke on behalf of the newly appointed judges, said that it was "frightening" that no males were among their numbers. "I urge more male attorneys to give consideration to serving on the Bench," she urged.

livern.barrett@gleanerjm.com