Justice delayed - Chuck wants judgments delivered in a timely manner
Justice Minister Delroy Chuck has repeated his concerns that the long delay by judges to hand down rulings could be affecting the quality of justice. He was reacting yesterday to the Court of Appeal's declaration as null and void a judgment that was handed down by three appellate judges. The court also ruled on Thursday that there was to be another hearing, speedily.
After several days of hearing in 2013, judgment was reserved in November 2013 but was not delivered until December 2017. The judges had retired from the Bench between 2015 and 2016.
"This is what I have been talking about, in that when judgments go longer than three to six months to be delivered, there can be severe difficulty. This is one example in which, even where a judgment has been delivered, it has been deemed null and void," Chuck told The Gleaner on Friday.
"What is of greater concern is whether there are similar judgments pending because it means these cases would be deemed null and void (too). I hope and strongly believe that the chief justice has impressed on the judges the importance of these judgments being delivered in a timely manner," said the justice minister.
The Court of Appeal upheld legal arguments by lawyers representing the appellants that when the judges in question had attained the retirement age of 70, they did not get permission to continue in office as the Jamaican Constitution provides.
Section 106 (2) of the Constitution states that with the permission of the governor general, acting in accordance with the advice of the prime minister, a judge who attains the retirement age may "continue in office for such further period after attaining that age as may be necessary to deliver judgment or to do any other thing in relation to proceedings that were commenced before him before he attained that age".
The upshot is that President of the Court of Appeal Dennis Morrison and Justice Hillary Phillips have ruled that the judges demitted office, their posts have been filled, and since they were not able to function as appellate judges when the judgment was handed down, it was a nullity.
Reacting to Thursday's ruling, Queen's Counsel Patrick Foster says that the decision "has far-reaching implications not only for the Court of Appeal, but also for the Supreme Court because where judges have handed down judgments after they have retired, the judgments may be regarded as a nullity unless the governor general gave permission for the judgments to be handed down".
The case is that of former Eagle Financial executive Dr Paul Chen Young, who, along with two companies, filed an appeal in 2006 against a Supreme Court ruling.
Chen Young was successful in the December 2017 ruling as the court had ordered a retrial in the lawsuit against him by the Eagle Merchant Bank and Crown Eagle Life Insurance Company, which are seeking billions of dollars against Chen Young and the two companies.
The court found then that the civil case should not have been heard by Supreme Court Judge Roy Anderson, now retired, because he had a personal relationship with lawyers representing the claimants as the judge, and those lawyers had worked at the same law firm some years before. However, the lawyers on both sides had all agreed for the judge to try the case.
Eagle Merchant Bank and Crown Eagle Life Insurance Company, which were all taken over by the government-owned Financial Sector Adjustment Company in the 1990s and subsequently sold for one dollar, had sued Dr Chen Young and two other companies in 1998.