Appeal court expansion to start this week
It has taken eight years, but the Government is finally moving ahead with plans to expand the Court of Appeal, which has been operating with the same cadre of judges since Independence.
Yesterday, Justice Minister Delroy Chuck signed a contract valued at close to $846 million for the construction of three new courtrooms adjacent to the existing appeal court in downtown Kingston to help it keep pace with expansions across the lower courts and clear the backlog of more than 1,400 cases.
For the last five decades, the Court of Appeal - the nation's second highest court - has been operating with a cadre of seven judges, notwithstanding sharp increases in the number of cases flowing into the parish and circuit courts.
"Eight years ago, it was planned to have 12 judges, plus the president, 13 judges [in the appeal court]. It could not happen because there was no space to accommodate the additional judges," Chuck acknowledged. "Seven judges just cannot manage the bulk of cases coming to the Court of Appeal," he insisted.
However, even after witnessing the contract signing, president of the Court of Appeal, Dennis Morrison, was not ready to celebrate. "I've been a member of the Court of Appeal 10 years now, and when I joined the court I was told that this was going to happen shortly," said Morrison in reference to the much-debated expansion plans.
Construction of the new courtrooms is scheduled to commence this week and, according to Chuck, they should be ready to be put into service by September.
Chuck has revealed that the constitutional changes that are required to allow Jamaican judges to serve after they have reached the age of 70 should be in place by year end. These judges, he said, will be available to serve in the appeal court.
"My hope is that, if not before the end of April, then early May, it (the constitutional motion) will be laid before the Parliament," he said.
The proposed constitutional changes require a two-thirds majority of Parliament and must be placed before the Lower and Upper Houses of Parliament for a total of six months, Chuck explained.
"So President [of the Appeal Court], I am hoping that during this fiscal year, you will have the opportunity to appoint the six additional judges. You may start out soon and appoint three, but we hope you can get the additional amount this fiscal year," the minister said.