WANTED - Seven judges, seven courts!
Government urged to provide more resources for justice system
Arthur Hall, Senior Gleaner Reporter
Some major players in the local justice system have added their voice to the growing number of calls for an increase in the facilities and personnel to address the many shortcomings in the process.
Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Paula Llewellyn, president of the Jamaican Bar Association Ian Wilkinson, senior attorney-at-law Valerie Neita-Robertson, and Senior Deputy DPP Caroline Hay found common ground as they urged the Government to increase the resources to the justice system.
In separate Gleaner Editors' Forums, the legal minds lamented the lack of resources in the system and the failure of the political directorate over the years to increase the capacity of the system.
According to Llewellyn, the country is struggling with "a low-capacity court situation" and that is affecting how the wheels of justice turn.
"The high crime environment has caused a jump in the figures, almost doubling what the courts have to deal with over the last 10 years, and the capacity of the courts have not increased," said Llewellyn.
"You should have been building more courtrooms and making sure that you have more personnel, court reporters, prosecutors, resident magistrates, and that was not being done," added Llewellyn.
The DPP argued that to achieve the desperately needed enhanced capacity, the justice system must be given the necessary budgetary support.
That is one position where the DPP and her prosecutors have the full support of the defence lawyers.
"I am upset about how governments have allocated resources to the justice system over the years," declared Wilkinson.
Did you know that if we (the justice system) are lucky we get $4 billion annually while up to four-five times that is spent just to rent offices for ministers and other people?" asked Wilkinson.
The outspoken Neita-Robertson was quick to agree, "You need more courts and you need more judges."
She argued that at least seven more courtrooms and seven more judges are needed for the Home Circuit Court in Kingston.
While not giving any number, Hay also called for more judges to be appointed.
"They don't have the judges so even if we had the prosecutors to assign (the system would still limp along)," said Hay, as she noted that at present there is not much room for additional judges because space is limited at the Supreme Court building.
Under the previous administration a justice-improvement project was conceptualised to transform the area around the Supreme Court in downtown Kingston into Justice Square, and work has started on the old National Commercial Bank (NCB) building on King Street, which is to provide more courtrooms and judges' chambers.
"We are not sure where that is (now that the Government has changed). We can only hope that the plans that had already been put in place ... despite the budgetary constraints, will continue," said Llewellyn.
"Justice Square is now a concept and work is going on at the former NCB building and hopefully we will have more courtrooms," agreed Wilkinson.
He argued that even while the physical work is taking place, other measures can be implemented to clear the backlog of cases.
"The DPP says she needs 10 more lawyers; give them to her," declared Wilkinson, as part of what he said is a five-year plan to clear the backlog.
He argued that with a reduction in the backlog of cases and improved justice system, Jamaica would enjoy several spin-offs, including economical.
"It's not rocket science. Everything goes back to the justice system and they keep ignoring it to our collective peril."
Wilkinson also expressed concern about the failure to adequately use court space.
He lamented that if a matter is set for one court, even if a case is being tried in that court and another court is free, there is no move to transfer the case to the court that is free.
"If you go to the Supreme Court many afternoons after 2 o'clock many of the courtrooms are empty. It shows that there is an inefficient use of the resources we have," charged Wilkinson.
Ian's and Valerie's five-year fix for the justice system
Just into his second year as president of the Jamaican Bar Association, Ian Wilkinson and his vice-president Valerie Neita-Robertson have come up with a five-year plan that he believes will give a fillip to the ailing and limping justice system.
1. At least 10 more prosecutors for the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions
2. Improve the facilities at the government forensic lab
3. Give the police more ability to conduct analysis by appointing a legal officer to review cases in each police division
4. Increase the capacity at the High Court by creating more courtrooms
5. Increase the number of judges at the High Court — could offer persons at the private bar five-year contracts to serve as judges
6. Introduce the long talked-about Judicial Code of Conduct to regulate how judges behave
7. Throw out cases that are called up more than three times that the State is not ready to begin the trial
8. Formalise and regularise plea-bargaining - Change the culture of the DPP's office to make prosecutors more willing to allow persons to get a plea deal
9. Fix the case-management system
10. Cut out preliminary enquiries