THE SIGNING of a ministerial order on January 15 by Justice Minister Mark Golding will result in many Jamaicans being redirected from the Supreme Court to the Resident Magistrate's Court for civil claims.
Golding, who moved a resolution in the Senate yesterday, which was approved, noted that the current maximum limit of monetary jurisdiction of the RM Court in civil matters is $250,000.
"The current limits result in many relatively minor civil cases being brought in the Supreme Court, which stresses the capacity of that court to handle its caseload," Golding said.
"The limits on the monetary jurisdiction of the RM courts also require litigants around Jamaica to bring these relatively minor civil claims in the Supreme Court in Kingston, which can be onerous and expensive and is also procedurally more time-consuming," the minister added.
Among the adjustments is for common-law claims to be increased to $1 million. The ministerial order will also see the maximum value of deceased's estate for probate and administration jurisdiction be increased from $1.5 million to $3 million.
Noting that there has been a 230 per cent depreciation of the Jamaican dollar since the maximum limit was last increased, the justice minister said increase in RM Court's civil jurisdictional limit represents, in part, an adjustment to take into account the changes in the real value of the Jamaican currency over the period.
"I regard these as interim adjustments. I would have been minded to set the limit for common-law claims higher, but I consider it prudent to move incrementally to avoid a situation where the additional flow of cases outstrips the existing capacity of the Resident Magistrate's Court," Golding said.
Opposition Senator Alexander Williams also welcomed the increases in the monetary jurisdictional limits of the Resident Magistrate's Court in civil matters. He, however, expressed disappointment that the minister has increased the cost for appeal at the RM level.
Williams also argued that with the highest recoverable cost in the RM courts being $3,000, many persons take the decision not to pursue civil claims.
"What we want is to increase justice and to increase access to justice. Sometimes access to justice is hindered by the cost. Sometimes what it would cost to pursue a particular claim may or may not make the particular bit of litigation worthwhile," Senator Williams said.
Golding, however, said he has commissioned a team to look at the matter of scale of fees, and that he will be seeking to adjust them upwards.