EDITORIAL - Administering justice
We take note of the swearing in of five new judges to fill vacancies in the Appeal and Supreme courts. The appointment of these judges comes at a time when societal clamour for justice is growing louder and louder. These cries often come from citizens who live in poor communities who feel they have been neglected by the Government, particularly in the delivery of social services, and the way the police apply the law.
The judiciary has the very important role to uphold the Jamaican Constitution and ensure that the rule of law prevails throughout the land. And citizens look to the courts to protect their rights, whether the threat comes from criminals or the State.
In their daily routine, judges interpret laws, assess evidence and hand down judgments. They also control the way trials are conducted in their courtrooms. For example, if judges were to rigorously enforce policies and procedures to minimise time-wasting by witnesses, attorneys and jurors, more speedy trials may result.
Issues facing the justice system
Among the issues facing the justice system today is the huge backlog of cases and delays in resolving these cases. Sometimes, it is the fault of investigators, who fail to complete case files or locate witnesses; sometimes it is the attorney, who has taken on too many cases and is unavailable when the matter comes up; and sometimes, it is the judge, who cannot find the time to deliver the written judgment within a reasonable time.
What kind of system resolves a case 10 or 20 years after it began? Justice can only be described as an elusive promise, if after two decades cases are still tied up in the court system. Indeed, justice delayed is justice denied. Having said that, we acknowledge that with heavy case loads and more complex matters crowding their calendars, judges may need greater clerical assistance in note-taking and completing judgments. The Ministry of Justice should ensure that the resources are provided to the courts for them to efficiently carry out their duties.
Society at risk
Even with the existence of legal aid, the poor may argue that their economic circumstance is a deterrent to their receiving justice in this country. The danger in this is that when an individual feels alienated from the system, he may plot his own revenge for what he perceives as a wrong done to him. And this often gives birth to reprisal and jungle justice. We need not stress how such actions, if regularly applied, can destroy a civilised society.
By failing to deliver judgments in a timely fashion, the judiciary is in fact shirking from its duty to provide a formal forum for resolving disputes and providing vindication for those who have been wronged.
How, then, can the judiciary convince the ordinary man that it exists to protect his interest? The judges have to exhibit a level of fairness and even-handedness in handling cases. The court-room environment has to suggest that equal weight and full attention is being given to the relevant evidence and legal aspects of each person's case and, at the end, the decisions are fair.
The beleaguered jury system also has to undergo serious reform. The lack of jurors is often one of the deterrents to securing speedy trials. The idea of trial by judge only has been mooted as one way of resolving that problem and it should be given serious consideration in light of the fact that more and more people are shirking jury duty. We submit that this response by the general citizenry comes because there is little understanding that the judiciary comprises the third branch of Government and that they have a critical role to perform in its smooth operation.
As we welcome these promoted judges, we wish that their tenure will be marked by thoughtful, independent, unbiased and courageous application of Jamaican law as they seek to right wrongs and protect the rights of all citizens.