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The first phase of the Jamaican Justice System Reform Project is now complete, with the handing over of the Task Force Final Report to the Minister of Justice, Senator A.J. Nicholson.
The report, which contains over 180 recommendations on reforms to meet the needs of the 21st Century, was the outcome of nine months of research and consultation, and contains findings from an extensive survey on the state of the justice system.
Senator Nicholson, in his remarks at the handing over ceremony held yesterday (June 7) at his Oxford Road offices, said that steps are now being taken to begin the second phase of the project, which will entail the shaping of the report into a modernization plan.
The plan, he said, “is to be completed by the Canadian Bar Association under their contract, and will encompass the development of a medium-term plan, complete with indicative costing. This plan will be structured to allow for early tangible interventions and it is to be submitted by the end of June.”
The modernization plan will be reviewed by a transformation team chaired by the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Justice, Carol Palmer and comprises the Chief Justice, representatives of the Public Sector Reform Unit, the Ministry of Finance and Planning, and the Planning Institute of Jamaica.
“The next step will be the submission of this work plan to the Cabinet for its decision on what is to be incorporated into the transformation agenda, so that the country’s justice system will be a cohesive strategic modernization road map,” Senator Nicholson stated.
According to the Justice Minister, the full schedule of reform activities will be undertaken over the next 10 years. He acknowledged that while citizens are eager to see justice system fully modernized, “we have to understand and to appreciate that it took a long time for the system to get to what it is now and it is going to take sometime to be modernized.”
Meanwhile, Chairman of the Task Force, Dr. Barry Chavannes, informed that the 319-page document represents a landmark in the country’s history.
“It is the first time in the history of Jamaica’s system of justice. that such a comprehensive review has been undertaken marking the beginning of a process of modernization in keeping with that independence,” he said.
According to Dr. Chavannes the report is very comprehensive and makes recommendations on every aspect of the justice system. Among the recommendations are improvements in the physical conditions of courthouses; more accessibility of legal information, as well as the re-engineering of legal structures to facilitate more collaboration among stakeholders, in order to achieve higher efficiency within the island’s courts.
The report also recommended that a Court Services Unit should be established within the Ministry of Justice; that some of the matters that are currently under the responsibility of the Resident Magistrates be transferred to Lay Magistrates’ Courts; the establishment of a Mental Health Court; and the review of the Gun Court.
“In effect, our report calls for a change of culture in the way we seek and dispense justice, and as cultural change is a process that is sometimes slow, sometimes rapid, the Task Force is strong on recommending the institutionalization of reform,” he noted.
The Jamaican Justice System Reform Programme began in October 2006 with an initial two-week mission by the Canadian Bar Association, which has been engaged to carry out the reform project.