Tue | May 17, 2022

Getting justice system to work

Published:Friday | August 14, 2015 | 12:00 AM
Justice Minister Mark Golding.


In your paper published on Monday, August 10, there was an article by Mark Golding addressing the issue of lock-up killings. However, his response includes a number of references to the legal system in general in which he admits that the legal system works too slowly, but claims that the Government is working to improve the administration of justice in a very challenging environment. He specifically mentions the issue of scarce resources.

Although there are numerous factors contributing to the slowness with which the legal system works, one which is fundamental is the apparent inability of the legal system to make serious use of technology, primarily computers.

According to the Court Administration Final Report issued in August 2007, in 2005, the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) purchased the Judicial Enforcement Management System (JEMS) at a cost of J$77 million. JEMS is a comprehensive computer application designed specifically to deal with the management of court cases.

Unfortunately, the installation of JEMS was bungled and little progress was made. For example, May Pen was chosen as the pilot site that would be equipped first and would serve as a proving ground for the system where any bugs could be fixed before JEMS was installed in other courts. But the May Pen court did not have an uninterruptible power supply unit (UPS) and, as a result, whenever there was a power outage, the system crashed.

A UPS, which is essentially a piece of equipment containing batteries that is installed between the electrical socket and the computer, would have kept the system running whenever there was a power outage for a period sufficient to allow the system to be shut down properly. Installing JEMS without a UPS was sheer folly and illustrates that the problem is not always lack of resources but inept management.

Progress since that time seems to have been dogged by confusion and muddle. Court Management Services was created in 2009 with the aim of improving the way in which the courts function. According to the only annual report it issued for 2011-2012, it seemed to have been given the task of implementing JEMS. However, in 2014, CMS was rebranded as the Court Administration Division and it would appear that the responsibility for implementing JEMS reverted to the MOJ.

In 2013, former Prime Minister P.J. Patterson, referring to the legal system, observed that "we are using a horse-and-buggy system to operate during a supersonic age. Some things need to be changed in a serious way."

The only way this change will be achieved is to have a small team dedicated to the full implementation of JEMS - maybe five well-qualified people, three with an information technology background and two who understand the courts' requirements thoroughly, including the needs of users of the court such as witnesses. Crucially, they will need enthusiastic backing from the highest level in order to overpower the resistance of those who enjoy working in the horse-and-buggy era.