Barbara Gayle, Justice Coordinator
The cry for justice is one heard several times across the island, but this time it is coming from an unusual source, the courts.
Several of the nation's judges are crying for justice, as they claim that the Portia Simpson Miller administration is breaking the law by its failure to table in Parliament recommendations for their salary increases.
However, Justice Minister Senator Mark Golding told The Sunday Gleaner that recommendations from the three-man commission are now with the finance ministry, and will follow the rules of protocol before being tabled in Parliament.
"I know that they are anxious to get that implemented, but my understanding is that the correct procedure is for it to be tabled once Cabinet has approved the package," said Golding.
The recommendations were made earlier this year by the three-member independent commission mandated to review the salaries of judges, who are due an increase in salary for the years 2009 to 2012.
Since April 2007, the judges have not received an increase in salary, and they are due salary increase every three years.
One judge explained that nearly two years ago they made recommendations to the commission and a review was done and sent to the minister of justice in April, but to date "they have refused to table it in Parliament".
Another judge described the refusal to table the recommendations as "interfering with the independence of the judiciary."
Judges' legal right
According to the judge, they might not get the increase right now, but at the same time it is the judges' legal right to know what are the salary increases.
"If the recommendations are not tabled we will not know what are the salary increases," the judge remarked.
"A judge is also human, and while we are sworn to uphold the laws of the land and administer justice without fear or favour, we need to be adequately paid because the cost of living has gone up significantly," another judge added.
The judges say they are fully aware that members of some statutory bodies and commissions get similar pay, although their workload is far less than that of the judges.
One judge, in voicing disapproval of the situation, remarked, "While the judges are criticised for the delays (in disposing of cases), the infrastructure necessary to do the job is not forthcoming.
"It is rather scandalous that we are dispensing justice and we cannot get justice for ourselves," said the judge.
According to Justice Seymour Panton. president of the Court of Appeal, the Government consistently ignores the recommendations of the independent commission on judges' salaries and emoluments.
He said five years ago approval was given for three more judges to be appointed to the Court of Appeal, but that cannot be done because of a lack of space.
Chambers too small
According to Panton, the judges' chambers are already too small so they cannot share.
"These things affect the output," stressed Panton.
On June 30, 2009, the House of Representatives approved a resolution cutting the link between salaries paid to Supreme Court judges and Court of Appeal judges and those of legal officers in the public service.
It was reported then that the approval freed the Government's hand to award increases to the higher judiciary, without the constraint of having to extend similar benefits to its legal officers.
This should have paved the way for more substantial increases for these judges.
It was one of several recommendations made by a three-member commission which reviewed the salaries of the judges, and reported in 2008 year that they were "woefully inadequate and embarrassing".
The commission felt that - given the need to protect the constitutional independence of the higher judiciary, as well as their special circumstances - they ought to be paid salaries on the basis that the higher judiciary is not part of the civil service, or any other executive arm of Government.
Another area of complaint for the judges is the fact that they are overburdened with work, and that they still have to be taking notes by longhand in criminal cases.
Provisions have been made for six more judges to be appointed to the Supreme Court Bench but lack of space is hindering the appointments.
Supreme Court judges are still sharing chambers, and some judges have to be shifting from chamber to chamber when other judges have gone to preside in circuit courts outside of Kingston.
Many of the judges have to write their judgments from home, as they say it is not convenient to do so at work because the heavy workload during the days prevent them from doing so.