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40 years of neglect - Chuck admits that political administrations have failed the justice system

Published:Saturday | January 14, 2017 | 9:17 AMArthur Hall
Minister of Justice Delroy Chuck speaks during a Gleaner Editors’ Forum held at the company’s North Street, central Kingston, offices last Friday.
Court of Appeal building at King Street, Kingston.

Justice Minister Delroy Chuck has accepted that successive administrations have starved the local justice system of well-

needed funds, leading to the ramshackle operation that now exists.

"Perhaps in the first decade or so (post-independence) things might have been on the right path but, say, over the last 40-odd years things have just fallen apart," Chuck told a Gleaner Editors' Forum last Friday.

"I blame no one. I don't blame the courts, I don't blame the ministry, I don't blame the DPP (Director of Public Prosecutions), or anyone. It is a combination of problems, principal of which is the lack of resources that have been provided for the court system.

"So over the decades the justice ministry has had a diminishing percentage of the national budget, and the effect of it is the shortcomings in the number of courtrooms, the deteriorating conditions of these courtrooms, the lack of adequate provisions of support staff for the judges ...," added Chuck, as he noted that the justice system has been operating with increased demands and less resources to meet these demands.

According to Chuck, the lack of resources has impacted the justice sector to the point where it has not been able to meet its target of being an enabler and facilitator of economic growth and expansion.

"The sector has also failed in its key role in the fight against crime, and whereas we need to fight crime with justice, you have more injustice being delivered than justice," admitted Chuck.

He said a determined effort must now be made to improve the justice system to ensure than it can deliver to meet the needs of all Jamaicans.

"Since I have been at the justice ministry for the better part of a year, we have decided that more resources must be provided to the justice sector. I can tell you that the Cabinet is determined to provide a substantial increase not just to security but to justice ... this and the next fiscal year," declared Chuck, as he indicated that the justice budget could double next.

Good news for major players

This should be good news for many of the major players in the justice system and every other Jamaican who has experienced the delays and inadequacies in the system.

Among those who should welcome Chuck's announcement is DPP Paula Llewellyn, who has repeatedly knocked the respective administrations for their failure to properly finance the justice system.

"It is just unfortunate that over the last 30 years, the policymakers in both political parties have not found the justice system sufficiently appealing to put the amount of resources to double or triple the number of courtrooms and human resources," Llewellyn declared almost two years ago.

"More resources have to be put into the administration of justice because the people that we serve need to have their concerns validated. Accused persons need to have their cases disposed of in a timely manner.

"Victims of crime need to be able to see that the system is working, and most importantly for the general governance in the country, it is important that those who are innocent are acquitted, and those who are guilty are convicted," added Llewellyn in a cry that she has repeated on numerous occasions, including during a radio interview last Friday.

Former president of the Court of Appeal, Seymour Panton, also used his farewell speech in late 2015 to blast the political leadership for its failure to give the justice system the attention it deserves.

Panton, who has served for 45 years in the justice system, said he was disappointed that certain improvements were not made to the system during his tenure.

"It is the same number of judges we have since the (Appeal) Court started in 1962, and even a blind person can see that it is ridiculous to be thinking that seven persons can operate properly 50 years later, given the increase in litigation and criminal activity," said Panton, as he pointed to one of the problems which Chuck has now vowed to fix.