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Spring clean for courts - Legislation to throw out old cases expected before year end

Published:Sunday | February 8, 2015 | 12:00 AMErica Virtue
Palmer

Thousands of Jamaicans with minor cases before the courts for several years could soon be given a clean slate.

The Cabinet is now discussing legislation that could see the cases being thrown out, and the law could be in place before the end of this year.

Carol Palmer, permanent secretary in the Ministry of Justice, told The Sunday Gleaner that the legislation is at an advanced stage and that the ministry was awaiting Cabinet's decision.

"I can't tell you the name of the legislation, but the matter is before Cabinet and involves cases in the Resident Magistrate's court system for more than two years," said Palmer, following a Gleaner Editors' Forum last Wednesday.

According to Palmer, a Cabinet decision is expected within the first six months of this year as all the ground work has been completed.

"I would say within this calendar year - well in advance of the end of 2015 - because we have done most of the consultations already. These are criminal matters, but lesser offences, which have been tested and tried but are languishing in the courts, which are not necessarily those which cannot be resolved, but it's cases that are not moving," she explained.

 

Cases being tried

 

Three weeks ago, Chief Justice Zaila McCalla told The Sunday Gleaner that some 200,000 cases could be positively affected.

"A lot of persons speak about the backlog in the system, but I want to tell them that a lot of cases in our Resident Magistrate's and High courts are being tried. But as fast as some can be disposed, others come to take their place," said McCalla.

According to the chief justice, the backlog was not only a feature of the Jamaican justice system, but of other jurisdictions in the Commonwealth.

"In Canada, for example, they do not call it backlog anymore. They call it an inventory of cases. They addressed their backlog in a particular case, and what they have done is dismiss a large number of cases to get rid of the backlog. And I think the Ministry of Justice is pursuing some initiatives towards that end, but they could tell you more," said McCalla.

In the meantime, Donna Parchment-Brown, director of the Justice Reform Implementation Unit in the Justice Ministry said the backlog of cases involves a vast number of traffic issues, and some involve small quantities of marijuana.

She said the courts and the consultants had been reviewing various issues to resolve the problem of backlog.

"Cases and cross cases are involved because some of the cases involve 'I charge you and you charge me back'. So it's one dispute, but a number of cases within that one dispute," said Parchment-Brown, the newly installed custos of St Andrew.