September 18, 2020

Make our local justice system more efficient before considering CCJ

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The Privy Council in London, EnglandBy Elliott Penn From Jamaica Observer

IMAGE: The Privy Council in London, England

I am appalled and somewhat surprised that the current Government of Jamaica is against a referendum to determine if the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) should become the final court of appeal for Jamaica.

A referendum gives the people of the country a voice; it is the ultimate people power. To deny the citizens an opportunity to be exposed to the public education a referendum would require and the public debate that should result from that process while shouting “People Power” is the heights of hypocrisy.

It is simple arrogance that they do not believe the electorate has the capacity to understand these ‘big’ issues, so Jamaicans must be treated like unschooled children.

We are to be seen but not heard. We have new masters indeed!

In the past, political parties believed in and practised political education. Today, we seem to be in such a hurry that one starts to wonder if there is another motive to be revealed after the horse has bolted from the gates.

The Privy Council has effectively blocked hanging in Jamaica, and though I believe it is a just punishment for some criminals who take life with impunity, I must accept that our justice system is so severely wanting, I have to rethink my views on the death penalty.

Any close examination of the regular chaotic and outdated process that reduces the dignity of our people in the Resident Magistrate’s Court will leave you feeling there is so much to fix before we take on the CCJ matter.

Recently, the president of the Bar Association spoke of the lengthy time it took to get written judgements. These calls for modernisation have been repeated over and over, yet nothing changes. Our politicians announce to loud applause various programmes for case management, yet cases languish in the courts and the citizenry loses confidence in and respect for our justice system, resorting to vigilantism or other methods to seek justice.

Many poor people can be victimised by rogue elements of the police. It is not hard for a poor man to be locked up by the police so as to be taught a lesson. We recently saw where no less than a Customs officer was locked up for seven days for an offence that does not carry a custodial charge.

The present Government seem to be of the view that the best contribution they can make to the justice system is to get rid of the Privy Council as the final Court of Appeal and install a Caribbean Court of Justice and we must trust them. My response and suggestion to you is, “run them”.

Yes, that’s right, run them. Insist that we must first invest in our local justice system and make it more efficient. Invest in case management, invest in training for judges, invest in the infrastructure. Set benchmarks for performance akin to that suggested by the president of the Bar Association and reform the rules so that judges don’t have to handwrite notes in their cases.

Finally, find the courage to face the electorate and educate them on this matter; stop lying to the people that the CCJ will result in greater access when you know most cannot even afford to get to the local Supreme Court.

If you really want to fix what affects the people’s lives, fix the RM Courts, then develop a pathway which includes compensation that encourages our brightest legal minds in private practice to make the judiciary a career.

What really is the game that is afoot?

For more on this story go to: http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/Make-our-local-justice-system-more-efficient-before-considering-CCJ_18484981

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