CHIEF JUSTICE Lensley Wolfe lost his cool in court on Friday in a manner that demonstrated a remarkable absence of dignity and decorum in the high office he holds.
The target of his wrath, Dr. Carolyn Gomes from the lobby group Jamaicans For Justice, may well have behaved in an inappropriate manner by demonstrating her dissent through body language during the Chief Justice's summation in the Kraal case. In which case there are avenues of censure available to the Chief Justice, other than an intemperate outburst in court.
Presiding judges do have the authority to maintain order during court proceedings conducted in accordance with strict rules of procedure. Apart from participating attorneys, members of the public are not expected to conduct themselves in a manner in court that is aimed at influencing the court's decision, especially in a jury trial. At the same time, the Chief Justice should face the fact that the people of this country are demanding more of their politicians, more of the police, and more from the courts and the judges of this country. He says that he protects justice in this country. We take him to speak not as an individual, but as the head of Jamaica's courts of general jurisdiction. The courts in fact do not do an adequate job of protecting justice. Too many people languish in jail awaiting trial. Trials take years to come on for hearing. Adjournments are the rule, not the exception. Witnesses are intimidated. The backlog in the courts prevents justice from being done. In his position, the Chief Justice must take a great deal of responsibility for this, even if ultimately, the blame rests with the Government through the Ministry of Justice.
We would remind the Chief Justice that in the very Kraal case over which he has presided, a key prosecution witness did not appear to give testimony. This key witness said that he was uncomfortable giving testimony. But he was under subpoena in this case and out on bail in another. He had been violating the terms of his bail, by not reporting regularly to the police. And when he was 'found' and brought before the court in relation to another case, he was fined, but was still not required to give the testimony in relation to the Kraal case.
Was the very young girl, who had a parent killed at Kraal and who gave testimony, less uncomfortable? What on earth is going on with our courts?
The Chief Justice suggested that Mrs. Gomes has a "hidden agenda". That agenda, as demonstrated through the work of Jamaicans For Justice, is hardly hidden. Indeed, they announce it publicly at every opportunity. They, and many others like them, are part of civil society's response to a national security and justice system which has gone off the rails. The Chief Justice, in his outburst, and the judicial system, in its handling of Mr. Danhai Williams, are evidence of a serious problem which urgently needs to be fixed.
THE OPINIONS ON THIS PAGE, EXCEPT FOR THE ABOVE, DO NOT NECESSARILY REFLECT THE VIEWS OF THE GLEANER.