- The Justice Ministry increased the civil jurisdiction of the resident magistrates’ courts from $250,000 to $1 million.
- The Ministry continued to roll-out the Restorative Justice Programme, as an important element in the justice system.
- A number of judges were sworn into higher office during the calendar year.
The Ministry of Justice, under the leadership of portfolio Minister, Senator the Hon. Mark Golding, pushed forward a number of initiatives aimed at enhancing access of Jamaicans to justice.
HISTORIC COURT OF APPEAL SITTING
Among these measures was the historic sitting of the Court of Appeal in the town of Lucea, Hanover during the week of December 9 to 13. It was the first time in the 51-year existence of the court that it was holding a session outside of Kingston.
Judicial and legal professionals hailed the move as a major development in the dispensation of justice and efforts to bring justice to the people where they reside.
INCREASED CIVIL JURISDICTION OF RM COURTS
The Justice Ministry increased the civil jurisdiction of the resident magistrates’ courts from $250,000 to $1 million, to enable more citizens to enforce their legal claims in their home parish courts and avoid the inconvenience and expense of having to bring them in the Supreme Court in Kingston.
The Ministry continued to roll-out the Restorative Justice Programme, as an important element in the justice system, opening three restorative justice centres in the communities of Trench Town and August Town in Kingston, and Russia in Westmoreland in February. They bring to seven, the number of centres opened across the island to serve approximately 10 communities.
JUDGES AND JUSTICES OF THE PEACE SWORN IN
A number of judges were sworn into higher office during the calendar year. In January, two judges were appointed to the Supreme Court, while in September, five judges were sworn in to act in the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court.
Scores of Justices of the Peace (JPs) were also appointed, with 53 installed for Kingston and 35 for St. James. There are a total of 5,969 JPs serving communities across the island.
The Ministry of Justice, in December, signed a contract valued at $245 million for Phase II of the Justice Square Project.
The work, to be undertaken over a six-month period, involves the further refurbishing of the Supreme Court and renovation of the former National Commercial Bank (NCB) building on King’s Street, downtown Kingston.
The project will provide several new court rooms, judges’ chambers and a new and more spacious Supreme Court registry, thereby allowing for the appointment of additional judges.
The Justice Square project is part of the Reform Policy Agenda of the Ministry, and is intended to provide appropriate work conditions for judges and court personnel, as part of overall efforts to improve the justice system.
The Ministry also completed the new court facility in Morant Bay; provided new facility for the Montego Bay Legal Aid Clinic; and established a new Western Civil Registry for the Supreme Court, which is a first in Jamaica.
PROVISION OF TECHNOLOGY
An automated case management software system called the ‘Prosecuting Attorney System (PAS) was put in place at the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), allowing the management of their portfolio of cases in a more efficient and effective manner.
There was also improvement to court reporting by the acquisition of 21 new real-time steno-writing machines for the Supreme Court with the assistance of the United States Government.
In addition, 37 new desktop computers, 10 new laptop computers, and two high-end servers were provided for courts.
A number of bills were passed in both Houses of Parliament dealing with varying aspects of the justice sector.
These include: Law Reform (Fraudulent Transactions) (Special Provisions) Act; the Committal Proceedings Act, 2013 to replace the antiquated preliminary enquiry procedure by a modern and speedier procedure called a committal proceeding; and The Commissions of Enquiry (Amendment) Act, 2013.
There was the Defamation Act, to modernize the law and achieve a better balance between the competing interests of freedom of expression and the protection of reputations;
Cabinet, on August 12, also approved the drafting of an amendment to the Child Care and Protection Act. This has been done, Mr. Golding said, so that so-called “uncontrollable” children cannot be sent to correctional facilities, “even if their parents wish it.”
An amendment to the Judicature (Resident Magistrates) Act was approved by a resolution in the House of Representatives increasing the number of Resident Magistrates from 50 to 70.
The Trafficking in Persons (Prevention, Suppression and Punishment) (Amendment) Act, was also passed, to strengthen Jamaica’s legal framework for fighting human trafficking, resulting (along with other administrative measures) in Jamaica’s international ranking improving to Tier 2 from the Tier 3 watch list.
The Justice also provided significant support to the Ministry of Finance and Planning and the Ministry of Industry, Investment and Commerce, enabling Jamaica to successfully satisfy the legislative commitments “structural benchmarks” in the first year of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) programme, involving the development and passing of nine pieces of legislation in the first nine months of the programme.
NATIONAL CHILD DIVERSION POLICY
Consultations were held for Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) on the Draft National Child Diversion Policy to garner feedback from the various Government departments and agencies, non-profit organisations, community-based organisations and church groups as the administration finalises the document for approval and publication.
The Policy seeks to establish a formal framework for dealing with children in conflict with the law throughout the criminal justice process, with a view to ensuring that detention or institutionalisation is a measure of last resort. A draft of the NCDP is to be submitted to Cabinet.
JUSTICE AND HUMAN RIGHTS
The Delegation of the European Union (EU) in Jamaica has provided some $52 million for the implementation of three projects, focused on the rehabilitation of inmates in the correctional system including juveniles, and addressing legal and human rights issues.
OFFICE OF THE DIRECTOR OF PUBLIC PROSECUTION
The Office of the DPP launched its disclosure protocol in October, which will serve to enhance transparency and accountability in the justice system. The protocol was developed through the Justice Undertaking for Social Transformation (JUST) Programme, a joint project of the Governments of Jamaica and Canada.