Minister of Justice, Senator the Hon. Mark Golding, says he intends to bring to Cabinet for its approval, a policy framework to allow the transfer certain ganja-related cases from the Resident Magistrate’s Court (RM) to the Petty Sessions Court.
“I agree in principle with the transfer of these cases to the Petty Sessions, where guilty pleas can be disposed of by Justices of the Peace. However, the policy framework for this initiative was incomplete when the current Government assumed office in January 2012, and therefore further research and work has had to be done before it can be implemented. That work is now close to finalisation,” he said.
The Minister was speaking in the Senate, on June 29, as he answered questions posed by Leader of Opposition Business, Senator Arthur Williams.
On November 1, 2011, former Minister of Justice, Delroy Chuck, had announced in the House of Representatives that the then Government had Cabinet’s approval in principle for the transfer of ganja cases involving possession of less than 8 ounces, from the RM court to the Petty Sessions Court.
“Court records reveal that a vast majority of these offenders are arrested while in possession of, or smoking a ‘spliff’, which is a quantity less than an ounce. The logistical arrangements and cost implications for the implementation of this arrangement are also being examined,” the Justice Minister said.
Meanwhile, Senator Golding said the Justice Ministry is actively reviewing the jurisdiction of the Petty Court to allow that court’s assumption of an expanded role, which will reduce the volume of matters heard in the RM courts and thereby improve access to justice by the Jamaican citizen.
In his comments, Opposition Senator, Thomas Tavares Finson, who supports the proposed policy move, noted that on a weekly basis at the RM Court in Half-Way Tree, 300 young Jamaican males receive criminal records for minor quantities of ganja.
“It means that we are creating a pool of young persons who cannot be employed, who cannot join the military, the police and indeed cannot, in some instances, seek further education,” Senator Finson said.
In his response, Senator Golding said that speaking for himself, he saw “the social injustice in the context of a cultural practice, where ganja is used so pervasively in the society by young men, and I dare say young women, to have this blight of a criminal record for smoking a ganja spliff."
By Latonya Linton, JIS Reporter