Thu | Sep 23, 2021

Commission for parish court judges launched

Published:Tuesday | March 23, 2021 | 12:07 AMCarl Gilchrist/Gleaner Writer

Already showing signs of increased efficiency since data collection began in 2016, Jamaica’s judicial system got another boost on Sunday with the launch of the Senior Judges of the Parish Courts Commission.

The commission is made up of all senior judges, with the aim of assisting with the implementation of a strategic plan to upgrade tiers two and three of the judicial system.

Tier two covers the parish courts and other courts at that level, such as traffic, coroner’s, tax, family, and juvenile courts, among others. Tier three covers the Supreme Court and other courts at that level, such as the Gun Court and Revenue Court.

This strategic plan is to further reduce backlog, improve the courts record system, automate some of the processes in the court, including making some forms available electronically, and allowing the collection of maintenance money via automated banking machines, as opposed to doing it through the courts.

The commission is also expected to strengthen the leadership at the parish court level. The commission will require senior judges to submit monthly reports, which the commission will discuss and make recommendations to Chief Justice Bryan Sykes and Chief Parish Court Judge Chester Crooks, with the aim of improving the leadership and management capacity of the court.

The plan also seeks to improve customer satisfaction and boost staff morale.

The push to improve the Jamaican court system is modelled off the Singaporean justice system, which, in recent years, has shown tremendous advancement. This progress led to that nation’s judiciary being named tops among 113 Asian countries, in the 2017-2018 Rule of Law Index, compiled by the World Justice Project, an independent advocacy group based in the United States.

The Singaporean judiciary has also been cited by the World Bank for its improvement, claiming that “over the past 15 years, Singapore’s judicial system has been transformed from one that many viewed as characterised by inefficiencies, delays and inadequate administrative capacity, to one widely seen as among the most efficient and effective in the world”.

Figures offered by Chief Justice of Singapore Sundaresh Menon, who was guest speaker at the virtual launch, indicate that in 1990 there were more than 2,000 cases outstanding in the Singapore Supreme Court but by 1992, the number was reduced by almost half, and by 1994, it had shrunk by over 90 per cent.

“In less than half a decade, the average wait for a commercial case to be heard in the high court fell from around six years in the late 1990s, to about one and a half years,” he noted.

CRUCIAL ROLE OF TECHNOLOGY

Menon hailed the crucial role that technology played in his country’s improved judicial system, and made two observations where the use technology is concerned.

“First, in thinking about the role of technology in reshaping our justice system, we should develop both near and longer term strategies. In the near term, we should clearly search for tweaks to our existing policies that can be easily implemented to deliver quick gains,” he advised.

“It is often the humblest and simplest of things involving commonly available technologies that can make all the difference. The rapid shift to remote hearings amidst the pandemic last year is an excellent example of this. The technology that enables videoconferencing has been in existence for decades, and I think this underscores the point that the best solutions are sometimes those overlooked in plain sight.”

In the longer term, he suggested that the true potential of technology lies not just in the digitisation, or automation, of our existing processes, but in technology’s capacity to transform them entirely.

He noted that videoconferencing technology not just enables court proceedings to go on, but also benefits persons associated with the case, in that it prevents loss of earnings for persons who would have to skip work to be present in court.

But Menon warned of the hazard of the digital divide, saying that persons unable to access digital court service must not be left behind.

Justice Minister Delroy Chuck had earlier pledged “optimum support” to the court system where the use of technology is concerned.

Chuck said he hopes that during 2021, all parish courts will be able to do virtual cases as Jamaica moves to a technologically savvy system.

Meanwhile, Chief Justice Sykes hailed the launch of the commission, saying it is “one of the most significant events” to affect the court system in Jamaica.

In recent years, Jamaica has seen improvements in some areas of the court system, including the case-clearance rate, which moved from about 71 per cent in 2017 to over 101 per cent in 2019 before the pandemic disrupted court proceedings in 2020, pushing the figure down to 90 per cent.

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