Wed | Dec 12, 2018

Sectoral Presentations 2018/2019 | Justice on a roll

Published:Thursday | May 24, 2018 | 12:00 AM
In this April 2018 file photo, (from left) Justice Andrea Thomas, Justice Grace Henry McKenzie, and Justice Leighton Pusey, show their Instruments of Appointment.
Governor General Sir Patrick Allen (left) following the ceremony to appoint Chief Justice Bryan Sykes.

The Ministry of Justice is happy to report its successes and achievements of the past fiscal year, and to present its plans and programmes for this fiscal year.

We are even happier to report that many of the perennial complaints and criticisms of the justice sector are now being dealt with and settled.

Mr Speaker, it is no secret to this Honourable House that I am a ferocious campaigner for a bigger slice of the budget for justice and, thus, for a better justice system.

The Government of Jamaica (GOJ) acknowledges the need for, and is committed to, providing greater financial support to the justice sector. In fact, in this fiscal year, we have already received an increase in our overall budget.

We have a team at the ministry that embraces the concept of fiscal prudence and getting value for money. This has been demonstrated in the last fiscal year, with the number of projects we have brought to fruition and which are changing the face of justice. We are repositioning justice and the rule of law from the periphery of governmental operations to the very heart of government policy and of legislative and reform agendas.

There is renewed urgency on my part, Mr Speaker, to transform the justice sector. Indeed, I have told my ministry that I am a man in a hurry and have put the ministry on fire. Yes, Mr Speaker, justice is on a roll.


Judgment debts


Mr Speaker, we are happy to report that for the first time, maybe in our history, we have settled all judgment debts due at the end of the 2017-2018 fiscal year. Thanks to the Ministry of Finance that provided $1.3 billion we settled 303 matters. All matters submitted from the Attorney General's Chambers were paid. We owe nothing! In fact, up to Friday, May 18, 2018, we have paid up our judgment debts, i.e., 56 matters totalling just over $78 million.


Infrastructural development


In the last fiscal year, we spent over $697 million to construct, rehabilitate and refurbish 88 justice institutions, including the island's courts. Mr Speaker, the following is a list of some of our accomplishments:

- Opening of the Coroners Court, after fire demolished the Duke Street property - $22.8 million;

- Extension of the Corporate Area Traffic Court by renting and refurbishing space at Sabina Park;

- Gun Court - we provided two additional courtrooms at the Supreme Court, having repurposed the area formerly used by the Civil Registry;

- Clarendon Family Court - refurbishing the Chapelton outstation Court to create a Family Court for the parish - $44m.

Mr Speaker, we acquired 14 generators for courts islandwide to ensure that shortly, when JPS fails, the courts can still continue their work.

We conducted a comprehensive audit of the air-conditioning system in all the courts. It was through this audit we were able to address the issue of air conditioning in the courts. In fact, some members of the public now have to be drawing for their sweaters to stay warm. Hopefully, we will have no further complaints about the heat in the courts.

This, Mr Speaker, is being made possible by the European Union at a cost of €1.79 million. This strategic investment in technologies will enable our judges to be more efficient and effective in the administration of Justice.

The days of writing longhand and the delays in finalising transcripts are coming to an end.


Legal Reform Department


The Legal Reform Department continues to provide the GOJ with excellent legal research and sound guidance on legislative reform.

In the last fiscal year, the department undertook a major task, the review of the monetary penalties in over 850 Laws of Jamaica. From the review, 14 matrices setting out the current penalties were prepared and sent to the respective ministries to inform them of their responsibility in ensuring that the penalties are modernised. During this fiscal year, we expect most of these penalties and laws will be revised.

Mr Speaker, the MOJ intends to make a significant dent in the laws under its portfolio to increase the penalties within this fiscal year. We expect other ministries to follow suit.


Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions


We have the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions' (ODPP) wish list which we will honour. More important, however, their offices will undergo major renovation and expansion in this fiscal year. The ODPP will soon be responsible for all prosecutors in the court system, i.e., clerks of the courts will soon be renamed and come under the supervision of the DPP.

Already, Mr Speaker, the ODPP was given 10 additional prosecutors and six administrative staff. And, Mr Speaker, the prosecutorial arm of the justice system will be strengthened even more with additional training, more personnel and better terms and conditions of service.


Capacity building in the courts


Mr Speaker, this Parliament provided a judicial establishment for 12 Court of Appeal judges plus the president, 40 Supreme Court judges plus the chief justice, and a senior puisne judge, eight masters in chambers and 70 Parish Court judges.

Yet, Mr Speaker, there are vacancies for six Court of Appeal judges, nine Supreme Court judges, four masters in chambers, and 12 Parish Court judges, which really should be filled as soon as possible.

There are simply too many outstanding cases and too much work in the court system for these vacancies to remain unfilled. Hopefully, they will all be filled promptly. Certainly, by September, the vacancies in the Court of Appeal will be able to be addressed with provision of the new and expanded court facilities for that court.

Mr Speaker, the MOJ is prepared to adjust the plans that have already been prepared for the budget to accommodate any change in priorities indicated by the chief justice, given that he was not chief justice at the time of the budget preparation exercise.

The ministry will continue to provide the support as he seeks to introduce technological and other solutions to the problems in the justice system. We hope and expect that, within the next three to five years, a paperless court system will emerge.

Mr Speaker, it is simply outrageous that our citizens seek justice, and when they access it in the courts, their matters are delayed for years, which means that justice is being denied, especially when it is inordinately delayed.

Mr Speaker, court cases are now being set for trial in 2022. That is totally undesirable. This inordinate and prolonged delay in trying cases must be addressed.


In search of a more efficient justice system


Mr Speaker, we want the courts to be more efficient and effective. We want to see significant reductions in case backlog. In the last fiscal year, we achieved more than 25 per cent reduction in the backlog in the Parish Courts, surpassing the 20 per cent target. As the judiciary respond to the multiplicity of cases flooding our courts, more resources, personnel, equipment and courts have to be provided.

If matters are to be dispensed in a timely manner, then we may need to think outside the box.

We may need to have more night courts, more part-time judges, more mediation, and yes, far more investment in the justice system.

The people of Jamaica deserve better and they will get better. Our courts must now become truly temples of justice and excellent service centres.

When our people visit the courts, whether voluntarily or involuntarily, they must be treated in a dignified and humane manner.

Our courts must send the right signal that justice can be accessed and delivered in a civil and timely manner.