Ronald Mason, Contributor
Jamaica inherited a first-rate judicial system from the British. Some of the foundation was built to reflect the truisms, 'justice delayed is justice denied', 'innocent until proven guilty', 'trial by a jury of your peers' and 'equality of persons who seek justice'.
These are as true today as they were in 1655 when we became a British colony. However, justice, in the abstract, is the business of each citizen and it is the purview of none.
Where the citizen has long been deliberate in not climbing 11 steps, that citizen rarely gives the judiciary a thought. When the national elections are held, the quality of the administration of justice is unlikely to draw strong response from the electorate. It is exactly the opposite when the citizen, especially emboldened by a crowd, sees the need to chant, "We want justice!"
Very little has been done to decipher what is the true meaning of the call, "We want justice!" Over the decades of my being a member of the legal fraternity, the process of trying to deliver the meaning has occupied many hours. Are the citizens calling for swift access to the courts, or immediate acceptance that the alleged accused is to be summarily executed?
At times, we as a people bypass the phase of justice where guilt or innocence is inquired into and determined, preferring for punishment to be meted out instantly. There are numerous instances where persons administer village justice, resulting in the most extreme punishment - death.
MAKE ACCESS A NATIONAL PRIORITY
Sadly, sometimes another judicial phase comes into play: 'can't ketch Quaco, ketch him shut'. Relatives and acquaintances of the alleged wrongdoer are similarly punished.
The country needs to make the access to, and delivery of, justice a national priority. The delivery, as currently exists, leaves a lot to be desired. The physical court buildings are poor, with some noticeable exceptions.
The interaction between the accused and the court administrators and public is sometimes too close for comfort. The Half-Way Tree Criminal Court is usually overcrowded and has been in this state for many years.
Persons who are attending court to face justice are milling around in the hallways. They are certainly not treated as citizens, innocent and not yet convicted. The citizens spill out on to the steps of the Resident Magistrate's Court in Linstead, and the same applies to the second floor of the May Pen Court building. So it goes all over the island. Again, no political party will ever win an election by focusing on the need to address the poor physical state of the country's courts.
The administration of justice is sadly lacking. The inordinate delays, the backlog of cases, the missing court files, the severe underutilisation of the Judicial Enforcement Management System in the Supreme Court (JEMS). The latter is an integrated case-management software designed for advanced functionality. It can initiate, maintain, track and calendar cases with proficiency through disposition. Monitoring workflow, managing documents, tracking drawn-out cases are all features of JEMS.
But the much-touted software has been a colossal failure in implementation. Why? Lack of will, and the very low priority for the administration of justice in Jamaica.
In our courts, the judges still take verbatim notes in long hand, which is time-consuming and certainly not reflective of the available technology.
Ten years ago, I had the opportunity to observe the state-of-the-art production of evidence for judges in the Supreme Court in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad. The real-time reproduction of testimony was on a screen before the judge. The judge, at 4.30 p.m., brought the day's proceedings to a close and that same evening had a printed copy of the day's evidence to take home with him for review.
Why not our courts? Lack of will, and because some judges feel it is too late to teach old dogs new tricks.
In January 2002, the Supreme Court set out on the journey to introduce mediation for Supreme Court civil matters. The implementation rules were promulgated in 2002. The fee was set. The system to administer and the Dispute Referral Agency were designated. Funding was provided by the Canadian government. All systems go.
The rationale for the introduction was spread across the country and there has been significant buy-in for most stakeholders, yet judicial administration has not kept pace. The fee has remained low, while every other legal charge has been increased. The excuses for not addressing the fee increase are most unpersuasive. The powers that be, by that single action, have devalued the process of mediation.
The body of precedent law to support the utilisation of mediation to address the backlog in the courts, and provide the speedy delivery of resolution and disposition, is lacking, and the quality of mediators has been replaced in the name of quantity.
Mediation techniques and application have evolved. Our mediators lack recertification and updated training in a structured form. The established principle of mediation has been dissipated in the name of expediency and infrequent recertification. Lost opportunity.
I am a professional mediator and my worth has been devalued over the years. I dare not think what the future holds. The public will continue to clamour, "We want justice!"
Ronald Mason is an immigration attorney, mediator and talk-show host. Email feedback to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org