Justice Ministry Addressing Backlog in the Courts


Several measures, aimed at addressing the backlog of court cases, are being undertaken by the Ministry of Justice.

Details of these measures, which will also improve the effectiveness of the police in bringing criminals to justice, were outlined by portfolio Minister, Senator the Hon. Mark Golding, during a recent media briefing hosted by National Security Ministry,

Hon. Peter Bunting, at his New Kingston offices, to outline achievements during his first 100 days in office.

Among the actions Minister Golding outlined, is the establishment of the Reform Implementation Unit, which he said is “up and running”, with a director and deputy director in place. He will be working closely with these key personnel, the Chief Justice and other judicial stakeholders, to identify and effectively address the challenges to the timely disposal of cases in the courts.

The Minister also informed of the institution of criminal case management, to ensure greater efficiencies in the disposal of criminal cases.

Additionally, the Justice Ministry is looking to expand the jurisdiction of other judicial officers to deal with minor criminal and civil matters to free up the resident magistrates to preside over cases, “which require their expertise."

As such, amendments will be made to the Rules of Court, to allow Masters in Chambers, who are judicial officers, but not full judges, to hear cases such as uncontested divorces, which the Minister said, contribute to significant backlog.

Also, work on the development of a policy aimed at widening the scope of lay magistrates including justices of the peace (JP) to preside over civil and criminal cases, is almost complete for advancement to the legislative phase.  Mr. Golding said consideration will be given to increasing the threshold of fines that lay magistrates can impose, from $250,000 to $2 million.

The Justice Minister also highlighted several other interventions, including amendment of the Evidence Act to facilitate the admission of video recorded evidence at trial, thereby protecting vulnerable witnesses such as children, while a Child Diversion Policy is being developed, which seeks to keep youth victims and offenders out of the court system.

Mr. Golding further pointed to the Restorative Justice Initiative, which seeks to keep relatively minor disputes and offences out of the courts, by attempting to resolve these at the local level.

“So there are a number of initiatives that are in place to try and deal with this situation (of case backlogs) in the courts, he said, noting that with the Reform Implementation Unit now in operation, “some real focus can be given to driving some of the reforms that were identified”.

Commenting on the matter, Mr. Bunting said the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) is lending support to the judicial initiatives, with police divisions moving to recruit attorneys with prosecutorial experience, to enhance investigations. This move, he explained, was intended to guide investigators in ensuring they only proceed with cases likely to lead to successful prosecution.

“That is an initiative that is just commencing but I believe that by the time we get that in place, you will have a triage, in a sense, where you will be able to screen out many of the cases that go forward and get thrown out at a later point in the system…and (be able to) guide the investigators in each division, so that the cases that actually go into the court system, should have a relatively high probability of success,” Mr. Bunting said.

 

By Douglas McIntosh, JIS Reporter

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