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Judges not above criticism, says chief justice - Underfunding of court system leads to unfair blame thrown at members of the judiciary, says McCalla

Published:Sunday | January 25, 2015 | 1:00 AM

Erica Virtue, Senior Gleaner Writer

Jamaica's chief justice, Zaila McCalla, has urged members of the judiciary not to be intimidated by criticisms, although some critics might be blaming them while the lack of funding is what is really to be blamed.

According to McCalla, members of the judiciary are public figures offering yeoman service to the people of Jamaica, and as such, should not be intimidated by criticisms but should instead continue to deliver the high quality of service for which the local Bench is known.

McCalla told The Sunday Gleaner that she has encouraged judges to be transparent and to explain to the people of Jamaica the decisions they take, or will take, especially in issues of high public interest.

Be transparent

"I have been encouraging judges to be transparent and to let them know that we are accountable in respect of what we do. If matters are in the public domain, subject only to legal rules, then judges should let the public know why they do what they do."

McCalla said years ago, as a clerk of the court, and later, Crown counsel, if new evidence was to be entered in a case of rape or murder, especially one of high public interest, she devoted time to explain the action she would take, putting things in the proper context.

"I would spend a lot of time explaining the context and the legal implications of why I can't prosecute, or why I am offering no evidence. As a judge, I require that of Crown counsels so that the public can know," said the chief justice.

She argued it was incumbent on the Crown that all action be explained, especially unexpected actions, especially of matters that are in the public domain and for which there is a high degree of interest.

Not afraid of criticisms

Speaking to criticisms of herself and members of the judiciary, McCalla said: "As a public, figure I am not afraid of criticisms, especially constructive ones, because it assists me to address issues of concern. And when you put yourself out there as a public figure you have to accept criticism."

She said criticisms will arise from time to time, especially when the public feels it is not being adequately served. Addressing some of the issues that can lead to uninform criticisms, McCalla said the lack of resources was a key factor facing the courts.

"We are operating in a system where there are tight fiscal constraints, and we have to go hat in hand, just like other organisations, for a piece of the pie to be allocated to us. So sometimes even when a budget is prepared and approved, the actual funding of that budget on a regular basis may cause a problem if funds are not forthcoming."

She said successive administrations had not adequately resourced the system and that was known and documented.

"The courts all over, for a long period, have been under-resourced through successive administrations, and it is well known. And we will have problems from time to time, and it is a factual situation.

"And it is very important because of the service that we offer. We are not there for ourselves. We are not there because we need jobs. We are there to serve the public, and if the public is not being served, then that's an issue of concern.

McCalla praised members of the judiciary for their service, which, she said, often comes at the expense of family time.