Barbara Ellington, Public Affairs Editor
Former Prime Minister P.J. Patterson might have retired from active political life but he's not sitting in a rocker with his grandchildren on his knees. He is as busy as ever and his engagements take him out of the island on many occasions.
At age 78, Patterson still possesses razor-sharp instincts and is still blessed with excellent health so he is not slowing down any time soon.
More recently, Patterson who insisted that he would not practise law again, broke that vow, "only as a personal favour to Olympian Veronica Campbell-Brown", when he represented her in her failed drug test hearing.
The internationally acclaimed attorney also has a hectic overseas travel schedule with many organisations requesting him for speaking engagements.
It is not surprising that on its 40th anniversary, the Jamaican Bar Association, has invited him to be the guest speaker for a dinner at its November 15-17 seminar in Montego Bay.
Topics to be discussed include the use of technology in crimes, and the former prime minister believes that with the rapid and irreversible advances in technology, our lawyers must equip themselves if they want to stay ahead of the criminal minds.
"The advance in technology has been rapid, tremendous and deliberate. It's been so quick, that almost as soon as one step is taken it becomes outdated.
"This extends to all areas of professional, social and natural life," Patterson opined.
The former PM noted that we now have the ability to listen in on conversations of national leaders, on affairs of state and personal matters, so there is lots of work to do.
According to Patterson, Jamaica has lots of catching up to do in terms of the legislative framework.
He noted that with Parliament considering an amendment to the Cyber Crimes Act, and corporations and multinationals struggling to cope with the criminal minds, it's imperative that we do what's necessary to stay a step ahead.
The astute Patterson observed that persons engaged in the criminal process are making sure they are on the cutting edge because several cases have emerged where the persons hired to protect the integrity of cybercommunications have themselves become engaged in illicit activities.
"But there have also been cases in which those who have been corrupted and caught, have been subsequently recruited by the state to help build firewalls against cybercriminals," Patterson noted.
Additionally, the former prime minister said the process will have to involve as active partners, judges, lawyers and governments to sensitise them about changes in these areas.
Asked whether he too had caught up with the technological age as far as Facebook, Twitter, and the like were concerned, Patterson quipped, "I would call myself a modest user of technology. I have deliberately refrained from getting on Facebook, it's much too open. I still prefer face-to-face conversations."
The Mediation Alternative
Jamaica has seen a gradual rise in the use of mediation as a means of easing the huge caseload in our courts and Patterson agrees that this is the way to go.
"In time past, in addition to arbitration, there have been innumerable cases that never came to court because they were resolved by mediation conducted through discussion between firms that were representing litigants.
"What you now have is a more established system sanctioned by the courts and appropriately so, where steps can be made to resolve cases through the process of mediation. That has now become a specialised medium of the art."
But the legal luminary argued that there are considerations and basic principles that ought not to be forgotten.
"Justice delayed is justice denied. When cases take long before adjudication, files disappear, memories fade, monetary value changes significantly, and persons, especially those involved in matters of injury to body or reputation, are denied the substance of what they are entitled to," he stressed.
Horse and buggy
That said, The Sunday Gleaner asked, what about the scores of lawyers now graduating? Should they not ease the huge backlog of cases waiting to be tried?
"We are using a horse and buggy system to operate during a supersonic age. Some things need to changed in a serious way," Patterson stressed.
He cited with more than a little annoyance the fact that in 2013, magistrates and judges are still taking handwritten notes of evidence, "a practice that is not only antiquated, but certain to cause constipation of the judicial system," declared Patterson.
He stressed that while persons are entitled to have counsel of their choice, the counsel cannot be engaged with such a proliferation of other matters at the same time making it impossible for the courts to function.
Referring to his time as a junior counsel, he said it was made clear that the Supreme Court had a superior claim on counsels' time.
Citing the differences between Jamaica and the United States Supreme Court, Patterson said the most complex and far-reaching matter before a US court is usually disposed of in a single day.
And, significantly, the US system has clerks who do legal research.
"Several of the most distinguished judges in the US began their legal careers as clerks to eminent judges. I think perhaps we have to look at some other measures.
"For example, it is a statutory requirement for judges to retire at 72, but most of them still have the mental acuity and judicial experience. We can ill afford to lose them," he stressed.
According to the former prime minister, there ought to be a way to avail ourselves of the skills of these former judges during the recess periods in our courts.
What of the CCJ?
The entrenchment of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) as Jamaica's final court of appeal remains a bone of contention in some minds and Patterson was asked if he thought the CCJ's time had come.
"My position has been clear. Ever since I was an observer of the Constitution of an independent Jamaica, I have known that the reason that the Privy Council was never entrenched (in Section 110 of the Constitution) is that Norman Washington Manley understood and accepted that on gaining Independence, we would be discussing with other Caribbean nations the future of what was then the Federal Court," said Patterson.
According to Patterson, that body comprised the greatest aggregation of legal knowledge and judicial skills that has ever practised in the Caribbean.
He noted that it was at a meeting of the Organisation of Caribbean Commonwealth Bar Associations, that Jamaica first proposed the establishment of a Caribbean Court as the final court of appeal.
Patterson argued that the reasons given then are still as valid and irrefutable today.
He said it would only be natural that many Jamaicans would use the result of the recent Shanique Myrie case to strengthen their bid for the CCJ to be our final appellate court.
"I remain of the view that the CCJ ought not to rest on the pillar of this decision to also uphold the right of CARICOM citizens within our borders without restrictions except for those legally restricted areas."