Feature
Registrar at the Court of Appeal, Stacie-Anne Brown (left), with President of the Court of Appeal, the Honourable Mr. Justice Patrick Brooks.

The Nation’s appellate court, the Court of Appeal, celebrates 60 years of existence on August 5, in tandem with Jamaica’s Diamond Jubilee.

The Court of Appeal is enshrined in the Constitution of Jamaica, which came into force August 1962, when the country gained its political Independence from Britain.

President of the Court of Appeal, the Honourable Mr. Justice Patrick Brooks, says there was a previous Court of Appeal formed in 1932.

“It was part of the Supreme Court. When it was formed, you had the president of the Court of Appeal and one other judge, who may have been a judge of the Supreme Court. Over time, the numbers increased, and by 1962 the Court of Appeal was really comprised of three Supreme Court judges,” he says.

Jamaica’s Court of Appeal derives its authority from the Constitution and from its enabling legislation.

In 2008, Parliament passed legislation to increase to 13 the maximum number of judges, and this number was reached in 2021.

The judges comprising the Court of Appeal include the President, The Honourable Justice Patrick Brooks, as well as The Honourable Justices Marva McDonald-Bishop, Almarie Sinclair-Haynes, David Fraser and Frank Williams.

The Honourable Justices Paulette Williams, Jennifer Straw, Carol Edwards,Nicole Foster-Pusey, Nicole Simmons, Vivene Harris, Marcia Dunbar-Green and Evan Brown complete the 13. If invited to sit as a member of the Court, the Chief Justice was, and continues to be qualified, by virtue of being the head of the judiciary.

In addition to the judges, there are 47 members of staff at the court.

When the new court was constituted in 1962, it was located on the same building that housed the Supreme Court, and as time progressed, occupied various areas on that building.

In 1997, the Court relocated to Public Buildings West, then moved to its present location on King Street in January 2019.

LANDMARK CASES

In the 60-year history of the Court, several landmark cases have been heard, including the sitting of five members of the Court for the Noel Samuda v. R., delivered in 1998, dealing with the constitutionality of a sentence of corporal punishment.

There was also the 2011 case of Peter Dougall v. R., dealing with the procedure involved in an application for the imposition of the death penalty.

Justice Brooks says the Court of Appeal judges usually sit in panels of three, “and that is why the sitting of five judges was so important”.

“We’ve also had five judges sitting on one civil case, Clarke v. Bank of Nova Scotia Jamaica Limited, dealing with the constitutionality of a single judge of the Court dealing with procedural appeals… . Recently, we had an appeal from the decision of a court martial in the JDF. That’s a unique one for us,” he says.

MILESTONE MOMENTS

Other important moments in the Court’s history include the change in attire. Originally, black gowns were worn for civil cases and scarlet robes for criminal cases. In 1993, the use of black gowns for all cases was adopted, and in 2013 the traditional black gowns were replaced with ones that include Jamaica’s national colours.

The first female judge of appeal was the Hon Miss Justice Marjory Morgan, who was appointed in 1988 and served until her retirement in 1995.

Recent developments of the Court include its vision statement, created in 2021: “We strive to be a world-class appellate court serving all stakeholders with excellence”.

The Court’s mission is: “To serve all stakeholders with integrity and fairness, by delivering sound timely judgements and efficient accessible Court services in a healthy and fulfilling work environment”.

Justice Brooks says the Court has an ongoing movement to improve its efficiency through consultation among the various committees within its structure.

“We have a health and wellness committee in the court as part of our strategy and they have been doing magnificent work in terms of putting in plans for people to be happier in court. We commend them for doing magnificent work, especially Mr. Adrian Williams, a dynamic team member who deserves special mention,” he expresses.

EMBRACING THE DIGITAL AGE

With the reality of COVID-19 fast-tracking the implementation of technology within the courts, Justice Brooks notes that the pandemic has shifted the court’s processes for the better.

“Over the years, we have sought to move with the times, and we have, in large measure, moved from pen and ink. Some judges do still take their notes in pen and ink, but most of our judges type their own judgements, and the secretarial staff and the judicial clerks are better able to work with a typed document in terms of editing, in terms of helping the judge to do the research instead of working with a handwritten script,” he says.

Justice Brooks also notes that lawyers are benefiting from the change, as almost all cases are being heard virtually.

“A lawyer in Westmoreland or in Hanover or wherever can attend court and argue his appeal without leaving his office. By and large, we are able to have that beneficial effect for lawyers and, hopefully, for the clients in that they don’t have to incur the cost of travelling to the court,” he expresses.

Also, on the horizon for the Court is the revamping of its registry in terms of how the cases are filed and how the papers are stored.

Registrar at the Court of Appeal, Stacie-Anne Brown, says the pending judicial case management system will feature an electronic database that connects the island’s courts.

“It will allow for persons to electronically file their cases rather than having to come physically to the court to do so. It will also allow litigants and attorneys access to their matters, so they can log into a system and see updates. It’s not yet fully launched but that’s where we are heading,” she says.

As the Court of Appeal looks to the future, Justice Brooks says he hopes to see more judges and the increased use of technology.

“I would like to see more use of voice-to-text technology to help us with getting judgements prepared and out. We have plans to use transcriptions, so we have oral recordings of our deliberations and with the use of transcriptions, we will get those reduced to text to assist the judges with not having to write. Then we can get that information to the judges quicker and get the preparation of the judgements faster,” he says.

The Court of Appeal operates between the Privy Council and the trial courts, hearing appeals from all divisions of the Supreme and Resident Magistrate’s Courts.

“They try the cases, hear the evidence between the contending sides and the decisions are made. The party that is unhappy with the decision can appeal to this court. Our decisions are used to give guidance to other litigants for future cases. Academics also use our cases as important guides for teaching students and for assessing how the judgements stand up to scrutiny,” Justice Brooks says.

“Since the majority of our cases end here, we are basically the final word in terms of the interpretation of the law. We are mindful of our position and we try our best to ensure that we give certainty to the profession and to the public. We are happy that we are able to celebrate this anniversary and we are elated that it coincides with the nation’s anniversary,” he says.

CELEBRATING WITH JAMAICA

Activities for the 60th anniversary celebrations of the Court of Appeal began during the week of July 31 and have, so far, seen a lecture by president of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), Justice Adrian Saunders.

A special sitting of the Court will take place at 9:30 a.m. on Friday (August 5) and will be streamed via the Judiciary of Jamaica’s YouTube Channel.

There is also an exhibition which opened July 31 at the Court of Appeal compound in downtown Kingston, which remains accessible to the public.

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