Sun | Jun 13, 2021

Letter of the day: Good move, but courts need further overhaul

Published:Sunday | December 6, 2015 | 12:00 AM


I congratulate Justice Minister Mark Golding on his efforts in moving forward with the justice-reform programme since his appointment as Cabinet minister in January 2012.

His latest move to rename resident magistrates as judges of parish courts, giving them security of tenure, among other things, is a step in the right direction.

I hope consideration will be given to expand the jurisdiction of the court, allowing it to hear civil cases with claims not exceeding, say, $25 million. It should also assume jurisdiction for all family-law matters, including divorce; fully assume within its jurisdiction some of the current specialised courts; and be elevated from being a court of inferior record.

Another change I trust the goodly minister will consider is to change the name of the Petty Sessions Court to District Court, to be staffed by district judges.

District Courts should have the jurisdiction to hear civil cases or small claims not exceeding, say, $2.5 million. They should also be able to hear very minor criminal cases, such as disturbing the peace and simple assault, as well as minor drug and traffic offences.

Additionally, the Supreme Court should be expanded geographically to have at least two, but preferably three, regional offices. The much-talked-about Western Regional Office (Westmoreland, Hanover, St James, and Trelawny) should be put in place, in addition to a Southern Regional Office (St Elizabeth, Clarendon, Manchester), and a Northern Regional Office (St Ann, St Mary and Portland). Such a move should negate the need for circuit courts.

The Supreme Court should be made a true intermediate court, though a court of first instance for civil cases with claims exceeding $25 million, bankruptcy, admiralty, and even some major constitutional cases. There should be an appellate division of the Supreme Court to hear specific appeals from the district and parish courts.

The Court of Appeal should eventually become our court of last resort, doing away with the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council and giving no consideration to adopting the Caribbean Court of Justice in its appellate jurisdiction. With certain appeals being taken up by the Supreme Court, mostly cases of major significance would, therefore, make it to the Court of Appeal.