Judges, court reporters bemoan poor treatment
Some of the nation’s judges are lamenting the scant regard shown to them when they are to receive their benefits and entitlements.
Among the issues they have to grapple with this year are the many hoops to get back pension contributions which were erroneously deducted from their salaries between 2018 and 2022.
The judges have joined the court reporters, who, for more than a decade, have been complaining that no one in authority is listening to their cries for tools to do the job and adequate compensation for their heavy workload.
Court reporters are responsible for taking verbatim notes of proceedings in cases and preparing transcripts, which are the official records of the court.
“[Earlier] this month, there was a plan to stage a protest to close down the criminal courts, but it was only consideration for the accused persons languishing in custody for years that hindered us from doing so,” one court reporter told The Sunday Gleaner last week.
By law, judges are not required to make pension contributions, but when the Pensions (Civil Service Family Benefits) Act was repealed in 2018, deductions were made from their salaries towards the new Pensions (Public Service) Act. The Court Administration Division (CAD) is responsible for preparing the payroll for the judges.
TOO MANY HURDLES
A letter was sent to the judges last week from the Chief Justice’s Office informing them that plans were being made for the deductions to be returned, but they have to send in a number of documents before they can be reimbursed.
The documents required include a certified copy of birth certificate; taxpayer’s registration number; a letter authorising the refund to be made; statutory declaration of age; marriage certificate; certified copy of decree absolute; statement of contributions – “this must be prepared by Accounts and verified by Internal Audit/Accounts Directorate”; application for refund (an official letter requesting the refund on the basis that contributions were erroneous); indebtedness department must state clearly the indebtedness of the officer to the Government of Jamaica; period of service record – bearing all relevant entries such as promotion, appointments, leave, salary scale and salary paid, etc; and banking information.
“We should not have to be going through these hurdles just to get back our money which was taken out erroneously,” one judge told The Sunday Gleaner last week.
“It is just incompetence on the part of those in control because all that is needed is for us to get a statement from CAD that the money has been placed in our bank accounts,” another judge noted.
“Very onerous,” was how another judge viewed the request.
One judge remarked that the CAD was not equipped to handle the daily administrative needs at the courts, so the department should be taken over by the Ministry of Justice.
ACUTE SHORTAGE OF COURT REPORTERS
The court reporters, who are an integral part of the justice system, say no one is making any representation for them to be adequately paid for the work they do. As a result, they say their numbers are dwindling very fast with no replacements for staff who quit, as no new court reporters have been trained for several years.
“The complement is for 45 court reporters, but the number has dwindled down to 24, and four of those are contract workers. Last year, four court reporters left for greener pastures overseas, and so far this year, one member has left,” a senior court reporter explained to The Sunday Gleaner. “No training session for new court reporters is taking place and many persons are not interested because the training course costs over $1 million and it takes time for a trainee to reach the required speed to take notes in court.”
The court reporters say their workday entails being in court all day, so they have to be taking work home in order for notes of evidence in trial cases to be ready for the judges the following day.
They explained that, in principle, court reporters should spend half a day in court, using the remaining time to prepare the transcripts, but that practice changed in 2019 because of the acute staff shortage.
“We have our families to take care of so we should not have to work all day in court and then have to take home work for which we are not even being paid. The Government cannot afford to hire court reporters from abroad because no one will come to work for the pittance that we are paid. It is a shame that the Government has refused to act on our complaints over the years, so very, very soon, our department will be empty and there will be no one available to prepare transcripts for the Court of Appeal,” one court reporter said.
They have now sought the intervention of the minister of justice.