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Fix the justice system

Published:Thursday | November 22, 2012 | 12:00 AM

THE NEXT 50 years

Jamaica continues to celebrate 50 years of Independence. We have achieved a lot. However, there is much work left to be done if we are to progress as a country. We must begin to tackle Jamaica's chronic problems in a targeted and sustained way to make this country a better place to live, work and grow families. The Next 50 Years, a special Gleaner series, will spotlight some of the challenges we must fix in the coming years. We want to hear from you. Email us at and join the debate.

A BACKLOG of criminal and civil cases has been slowing down the justice system to almost crisis pace. However, there are still several areas of the system which have seen significant improvements since Independence.

There have been major expansions and refurbishing of courthouses, and new ones have been built.

The court system, generally, has kept pace with technology, and it is not unusual for witnesses to give testimony in the High Court via video link.

Legislation has been passed to assist accused persons who cannot afford legal fees.

An amendment to the Offences Against the Person Act allows statements from persons who have died, or cannot be located, to be tendered in evidence at trial.

A major problem still being encountered in the justice system is that of an insufficient number of citizens turning out for jury duty.

The backlog of cases dogging the justice system has resulted in a large number of prisoners languishing in custody, some for more than four years, without facing trial.

Parole Board reviews

Going forward, a system should be established where the Parole Board reviews the case of every prisoner before release to determine where convictions could be expunged. This could give prisoners a genuine opportunity to resist the temptation of returning to crime, and help reduce the number of cases before courts.

In addition to the judiciary working closer with the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, the police and other agencies to clear the backlog, Alternative Dispute Resolution needs to be a frequent part of our system, if we are to fix this long-standing judicial ailment.