The Jamaican court system

Published: Monday | November 23, 2009

Sancia Kelly is researching the Jamaican court system and is requesting information on the different courts that exist and how they operate.

The Ministry of Justice has oversight responsibility for the courts in Jamaica.

The court system is operated at four levels:

The Court of Appeal

The Supreme Court

The Resident Magistrate's


The Petty Sessions Court.

Court of Appeal

The Court of Appeal is the highest court of the land. It hears civil and criminal appeals from the Supreme Court and the Resident Magistrate's Court.

At present, the president and six other judges sit on the bench of the Court of Appeal.

Recent Amendments to the Judicature (Appellate Jurisdiction) Act now allow for the appointment of six additional judges.

The chief justice is a judge of appeal but only sits on the invitation of the president.

A judge of the Court of Appeal must be an attorney-at-law of at least 10 years' standing and is appointed by the governor general on the recommendation of the Judicial Service Commission. Both the chief justice and the president of the Court of Appeal are appointed by the governor general on the recommendation of the prime minister after consultation with the leader of opposition.

Supreme Court

The Supreme Court has unlimited jurisdiction in civil and criminal matters.

The judiciary of the Supreme Court is headed by the chief justice, a senior puisne judge and 24 other puisne judges. The appointment of 16 additional judges is now allowed by the recent amendments to the Judicature (Supreme Court) Act.

Puisne judges must also be attorneys-at-law of at least 10 years' standing. They too are appointed by the governor general on the recommendation of the Judicial Service Commission.

There are several specialised divisions of the Supreme Court. These include the Revenue Court, established in 1971; the Gun Court, established in 1974, and the Commercial Court which began operations in February 2001. The Gun Court was established under the Gun Court Act to hear offences involving firearms. The Gun Court Act was later expanded to include the Western Regional Gun Court which hears gun offences committed in the parishes of St James, Trelawny, Westmoreland and Hanover.

The Criminal Division of the Supreme Court has jurisdiction of all criminal matters to be held in Circuit Courts Islandwide. The Circuit Court is akin to a travelling court, which makes it convenient for parties involved, as it eliminates the need to travel to Kingston for matters to be heard.

Naming process

The Circuit Court held for the parish of Kingston is called the Home Circuit Court and has jurisdiction for the parish of St Andrew, while that which is convened in the other parishes are named after the respective parish, for example, the St Catherine Circuit Court or the St James Circuit Court.

The chief justice manages the Supreme Court system and determines the assignment of cases and judges and the general management of cases. The role of the Ministry of Justice is to support the chief justice by providing the infrastructure and administrative tools for her to operate the court system.

Plans are under way for the establishment of a court management service which will provide greater autonomy for the chief justice and allow her more control over the administration and operation of the court.

Resident Magistrate's Court

Resident Magistrate's Court presides over both civil and criminal matters both with limited jurisdiction. This means that it can only hear civil matters which involve sums of money of a certain amount. The amounts and the extent of the jurisdiction of this court are provided for in the Judicature (Resident Magistrates') Act.

The several divisions of the Resident Magistrate's Court include the:

Family Court

Children's Court

Traffic Court

Small Claims Court

Night Court

Tax Court

Drug Court

Coroner's Court

A resident magistrate must be an attorney-at-law of at least five years' standing. Resident magistrates are appointed by the governor general and the Judicial Service Commission.

Civil matters tried at a resident magistrate's court include recovery of possession, recovery of rent, granting of probate and letters of administration, actions for negligence and breach of contract. The Resident Magistrate's Court has no jurisdiction to try certain criminal offences including murder, treason and rape. However, in such cases, a preliminary examination or enquiry into the charge is held in the RM court to determine whether a prima facie case has been made out against the accused, in which case the RM will make an order for the accused to stand trial in the Circuit Court.

Petty Sessions Court

The Petty Sessions Court is presided over by justices of the peace. The Justices of the Peace Jurisdiction Act confers various powers on the justice of the peace, including the power to issue warrants for failure to obey a summons. Petty sessions cases include minor criminal cases between parties such as threats, stone throwing and assaults, as well as cases such as resisting arrest.

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