A former chief justice of the US Supreme Court is reported to have said: "Power of the judiciary lies not in deciding cases, nor in imposing sentences, nor in punishing for contempt, but in the trust, faith and confidence of the common man."
In recent days, Jamaica's justice system has come under the microscope once again, with Justice Minister Delroy Chuck speaking out about corruption and the heavy backlog of cases. He described a system in flux as he addressed new lawyers who were graduating from the University of the West Indies.
Against that background we ask the question: How does the common man in Jamaica feel about our justice system that is hopelessly clogged with cases?
For many years we have heard cries of injustice coming from inner-city folk who have become frustrated with the system. From time to time, we have heard their sharp criticism of a system that they believe serves only the interests of those with connections and money.
The justice minister made it clear, during his address, that the overburdened courts of Jamaica are not properly serving the common man. Indeed, the course of justice is obstructed when cases are allowed to drag on for years. So what is Mr Chuck going to do about this cloud that hangs over the justice system?
The minister spoke about some of the options to remedy the huge case backlog that has resulted in lengthy delays. For example, he is proposing that courts extend their hours of operation so that more cases can be tried. It would appear that the introduction of night court for traffic offences has worked well, so it seems that this suggestion may have merit.
One of the reasons cited for the ballooning caseload in courts across the country is the lack of judges. Given the meagre budget allocated to the Ministry of Justice and the fiscal bind which has entrapped Jamaica, it is unclear how the Government would pay for salaries for more judges, clerks and other support staff.
There is also the matter of lawyers doing clever dances, which have also put a spoke in the wheel. In the scheme of things, shouldn't there be legislation setting concrete parameters and rigorous timelines for the management of cases?
The work of the police has also come in for harsh criticism. It is not enough to talk about the back-door deals that go on among police, criminals and witnesses. We need an aggressive campaign to tackle the problem before it becomes more deeply entrenched. There has to be a resolve to investigate, prosecute and punish those who tarnish the quality of justice.
Opposition spokesman on justice, attorney-at-law Mark Golding, also recognises the impact that corruption has on the system and appears willing to work with the Government in finding solutions to the problem. The crisis calls for unequivocal leadership and cooperation between the Opposition and Government, a welcome step which we hope will be more than mere gesture. Working together, we can find a strategy to undo the damage to the judiciary and have a fair and equitable system.
It is clear that the courts need serious overhaul to improve efficiency and public perception of the country's ability to dispense transparent and true justice.
October 15, 2011