The following is the full text of The Jamaican Bar Association's reaction to complaints that judgment has been pending for four years in a legal battle between farmers in Abbey Green, St Thomas, and Tropicrop Mushrooms Ltd.
The Jamaican Bar Association is concerned about occasional reports of the inordinate length of time that some users of the Jamaican courts experience in awaiting the delivery of judgments in their matters.
One such recent report is a complaint by litigants being placed in the inconvenient and frustrating position of waiting four years for the delivery of a judgment. The circumstances surrounding the prolonged delay in delivery of this particular judgment are uncertain and as such we do not comment on the merits of the complaint in that instance.
However, this report serves to exemplify the sense of frustration felt by many court users in the society caused by delays in court proceedings.
Judges in the timely delivery of judgment must strive to the standards stated clearly in the Judicial Conduct Guidelines. One such guideline states:-
"Judges should endeavour to perform all judicial duties, including the delivery of reserved judgments, efficiently and with reasonable promptness. In exceptional cases and where, for good and sufficient reasons, a judge believes that a judgment is likely to be reserved for more than three months, it shall be the responsibility of the judge to inform the chief justice (in the case of judges of the Supreme Court, masters and resident magistrates) or the president (in the case of judges of the Court of Appeal) of the circumstances causing or contributing to the delay."
Are our judges adhering to these guidelines? For the most part, we believe they are.
Further, we cannot ignore the fact that the lack of sufficient human and other resources in the court system assist in creating backlogs. While other occurrences may not be as pronounced as the present case, litigants on occasion have to wait for extended periods to receive judgments in their matters. This is partially due to the fact that there are insufficient judges to manage the case load. Additionally, judges oftentimes have copious authorities, exhibits, affidavits, and applications for multiple litigants in a single matter that they have to examine diligently. Where this occurs in numerous cases on a judge's roster, the task of disseminating timely judgments in all matters may prove a daunting one. To assist the judges, we believe that each judge should be assigned a properly trained attorney-at-law as a judicial clerk. We note that there are a large number of graduates from the Norman Manley Law School.
The popular maxim however still rings true "justice delayed is justice denied". The Jamaican Bar Association believes that where the act or omission of an officer of the court results in justice being denied to an individual who sought the intervention of the court to alleviate a perceived harm, sanctions should be considered. While we understand the difficulty associated with sanctioning a judge, where instances such as the present remain unattended, it only further degrades an already dilapidated image of the justice system. Currently, there exists limited avenues whereby an aggrieved citizen may seek remedies for laggard conduct in delivery of judgments. Perhaps the time is approaching where judges in egregious circumstances will have to answer to the General Legal Council or the Judicial Services Commission for gross acts of negligence.