Judges are overburdened declared Justice Campbell - The end of a long and distinguished career on the bench and in public service
The heavy workload for the nation's judges has been described by Mr Justice Lennox Campbell, CD, QC, as being onerous and burdensome, and he is calling for judges to be given time out of court to write judgments.
"The judgments that are being produced are well researched and well presented and have been respected by other courts in the Commonwealth," the eminent jurist told The Sunday Gleaner.
Justice Campbell, who is retiring in February next year, went on pre-retirement leave in September after a long and distinguished career on the Bench and in the public service.
He has expressed concerns about the acknowledgement of the judiciary as an arm of Government, independent of the Legislature and the Executive. The Westminster Model, he said, recognised that there are constitutional conventions that assist in this acknowledgement. He said also that the Jamaican judiciary's position is further advanced by a written Constitution.
He has also expressed concerns about the plight of some of the retired judges, who are facing financial constraints and barred from maintaining a legal practice. He wants the Government to move swiftly to address the issue.
Some of the nation's judges have been strongly criticised recently for not producing judgments expeditiously and for writing lengthy judgments.
"I cannot understand why we would want to produce less than the best. To my mind, it is similar to asking Usain Bolt not to run his fastest in the finals at the Olympic Games. And then I asked myself for whose pleasure or whose sake. I don't understand this argument at all," Justice Campbell remarked.
He sees the Bench, as currently comprised, to be capable of discharging responsibility at the highest level, and he stressed that "our country should do everything to preserve this. There should be no shortcuts".
"There is a clear danger of bringing a fine Jamaican institution into disrepute," he warned.
Justice Campbell, in referring to the celebrated Jamaican case of Pratt and Morgan, pointed out that in that case, in which he appeared, the United Kingdom Privy Council recognised that Jamaica might have difficulty in putting in certain resources into the administration of justice.
"The question I now ask myself, how many High Court judges have been appointed since that ruling, and further, what has been the level of increase in the matters coming before the court? The answer cannot be to blame the judiciary. Pratt and Morgan had come to define the whole issue of undue delay not only in the death penalty cases, but is relevant, in my view, in all matters before the court," he stated.
TIME TO WRITE JUDGMENTS
Justice Campbell disclosed that most of his time at home was spent writing judgments. He noted, "I don't know how my dear wife put up with this situation.
"I can say without fear of reproach that the judges are persons who work extremely hard, and most of the judgments written are done in their own time because no time is given out of court to write judgments," he said. "The judges should be given one week out of each month to write judgments."
He said that he had the opportunity to preside in other jurisdictions such as Grand Cayman, and the courts' lists of matters were nowhere as packed as the list in Jamaica, and yet those judges were allowed time out of court expressly to write judgments.
"I have run my leg in this judicial relay. I have seen the leg run by others who handed me the baton. They were all dedicated and hard-working persons. The persons to whom the baton has been handed will, no doubt carry it around safely in the tradition of the Jamaican judiciary. Some of those persons who have served now find themselves in straightened circumstances," he said.
Questioned further about the financial issues of some retired judges, he said, "There was a standard below which a person who has served his country, at such a level, should not be allowed to fall."
Justice Campbell is a member of the very first graduates from the Norman Manley Law School in 1975, and shortly after joined the government service as a clerk of the courts. He next joined the staff at the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions in 1983 and was appointed assistant DPP in 1985. He was next appointed a resident magistrate (now parish judge).
He then moved on to the Attorney General's Chambers, where he was appointed head of the Litigation Department. He said that it was quite unusual for someone at the level of the resident magistrate to leave the magistracy to join the Attorney General's Chambers, and he was not aware of anyone else who had taken that particular career course.
His appointment came about in peculiar circumstances. While he was attending a seminar for resident magistrates in St Ann, the Honourable Patrick Robinson, now president of the World Court, who at the time was the deputy solicitor general, invited him to join those Chambers.
"He gave me some time to think about it, but I was prepared to give my answer on the spot because I held the AG's Chambers in very high esteem because of the presence of Dr Kenneth Rattray, QC, the then solicitor general who was a renowned international lawyer at the time and was given prominence internationally for his work in the Law of the Sea. As well as prominent lawyers such as Patrick Robinson, the late Peter Sobers, Douglas Leys, and Lackston Robinson. Leys was to later distinguish himself as solicitor general in his own rights" he added.
Justice Campbell was appointed Queen's Counsel and deputy solicitor general in early 2000.
He recounted that as director of litigation, he was an advocate appearing before the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeal, and the UK Privy Council.
"I really submerged myself in the work there. It was substantially different from the advocacy and criminal law I was practising since leaving law school," he said.
He also appeared before the Industrial Disputes Tribunal and had battles there with trade unionists that he would not normally have met in the courts. There were periods when the Government had difficulty meeting the demands of public servants, and Justice Campbell said "it was our duty as representatives for the Government to present their case usually centered on an insufficiency of funds to meet the public-service demands. Consequently, it was not in the national interest to accede to those demands."
He described times when aggrieved public servants demonstrated their frustrations to him.
He recalled appearing in a matter brought by the Police Federation in which the late trade unionist Hugh Lawson Shearer and Professor Trevor Monroe, along with other trade union leaders, sought to represent the Police Federation, a move that was objected to by the Government, but which the court confirmed and approved.
He said one of the most interesting issues he was involved in was the privatisation of the energy sector as hitherto, the Jamaica Public Service had enjoyed a monopoly on the transmission and distribution of electricity. The work involved the efforts of a negotiating team, which was headed by Dr Vin Lawrence, who worked unstintingly to produce the necessary power-purchase agreements, guarantees, and regulatory framework necessary for the implementation of private-power generation for sale in the national grids.
He was also involved in matters such as the International Monetary Fund multi-lateral agreements as legal representative.
An invitation by then Chief Justice Edward Zacca to join the Supreme Court Bench was turned down and Justice Campbell explained, "I recognised the invitation for elevation to the Bench for the honour it was, but after careful consideration, the national importance of some of the projects that were then under way and in which the AG's Chambers was acting as the government's legal representative, I considered it my duty to decline the invitation."
He said he was in the Commercial Division at that time, and declining the offer meant that persons junior to him, in relation to the judicial side of his career, would move ahead of him. "Nevertheless, I never regretted my decision," he said.
However, he accepted the invitation to join the Bench five years later and was appointed a Supreme Court judge in May 2000.
The judicial experience, he said, was tremendous.
He disclosed that at the start of his legal education, he was asked by a scholarship reviewing panel what was it about the law that attracted him to it.
"My answer then was 'the drama of the courtroom'. Since then, I have always been reminded to be careful what I wish for lest it come true. I have seen more drama than any law school graduate could reasonably have foreseen," he said.
Justice Campbell describes his career as fulfilling and rewarding and he considers himself very fortunate to have had the Jamaican people pay for his education at Kingston College, and, for the most part, at the University of the West Indies.
"I consider myself indebted to them, and my entire career has been based on repayment of that debt," he added.
On Heroes Day, Justice Lennox Campbell was awarded the Order of Distinction (Commander Class) for his service in the judiciary and in the legal system. He said that he is humbled by the honour and recognise that without the support of his family, friends, and the supporting staff that he has had all along, this would not have been possible.