- Process, people, and technology are the targets of the reform process currently being undertaken within the justice sector islandwide.
- Justice Minister, Senator the Mark Golding, tells JIS News that “a modern justice system which facilitates the rule of law, social and economic stability, trust, and confidence, requires substantial investment of ideas, action, and resources.”
- The Justice Reform Implementation Unit (JRIU), guided by the recommendations of a 2006 Justice Undertaking for Social Transformation (JUST) report, was formed to coordinate all the reforms needed for the justice system.
Process, people, and technology are the targets of the reform process currently being undertaken within the justice sector islandwide.
Justice Minister, Senator the Mark Golding, tells JIS News that “a modern justice system which facilitates the rule of law, social and economic stability, trust, and confidence, requires substantial investment of ideas, action, and resources.”
As such, the Justice Reform Implementation Unit (JRIU), guided by the recommendations of a 2006 Justice Undertaking for Social Transformation (JUST) report, was formed to coordinate all the reforms needed for the justice system.
Permanent Secretary in the Justice Ministry, Carol Palmer, explains that the sector is large and multifaceted, and it was, therefore, important to establish a team with the mandate to implement the Justice Reform Programme.
“The justice plant, personnel, and procedures are now under continuous review and improvement, as recommendations are agreed for action; while partners and resources are identified, and phased implementation undertaken,” she adds.
Custos Rotulorum for St. Andrew and JRIU Director, Hon. Donna Parchment Brown, has been tasked with the responsibility of leading the unit on its mission to reform Jamaica’s justice system, and has indicated that the ongoing engagement is already taking shape.
Tackling the chronic issue of court case overloads; ease of access to justice; and modernization of equipment in the entities mandated to administer justice, is how she says the JRIU hopes to make an impact, to the public’s benefit.
“So the outcome should be…a more efficient, transparent, and gender responsive functioning of the justice system in Jamaica, and justice services that are more customer-centric and focused,” Mrs. Parchment-Brown outlines.
She advises that work has begun to modernize technology in court rooms islandwide, as well as the offices of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), pointing out that this engagement is starting to take form and create an impact.
Mrs. Parchment-Brown tells JIS News that equipment, inclusive of laptop and desktop computers, digital recorders, and photocopiers, have been procured to assist in advancing the modernization process.
“Judges will now be able to read a lot of material online, rather than having to use paper files for every activity,” she posits.
Mrs. Parchment-Brown informs that this undertaking is linked to a major project that has been ongoing for the last 10 years, which will see the re-organization of the civil and criminal registry in the Supreme Court, and changes in how files will be managed in the courts.
The project will also see the creation of at least four regional court complexes islandwide, where a variety of services will be available to the public.
However, Senator Golding insists that legislative reform is a necessary pillar of Justice Reform.
He cites recent passage of the Evidence (Special Measures) Act, to enable digital recording capabilities and remote evidence in the courts; Evidence (Amendment) Act; Dangerous Drugs (Amendment) Act; Jury (Amendment) Bill; Committal Proceedings Act; and the Criminal Justice (Administration) (Amendment) Bill, as steps in the right direction.
Mrs. Parchment Brown adds that the recent legislative engagements undertaken are already starting to create an impact, and have helped to free up time and costs in the courts.
She points out that much more will be achieved as work is done to improve the flow in the traffic court.
Meanwhile Mrs. Parchment Brown says one of the goals to get fair and timely case resolution will be accomplished with the implementation of “agreed facts”, which should reduce the number of days in which cases are heard in court, once the parties agree on certain matters prior to then.
Otherwise, she says, improvement in processes in the criminal courts will require dedicating more judges to the commercial courts and encouraging the public to file their cases there rather than in the civil court.
Importantly Mrs. Parchment Brown tells the JIS that as part of the reform taking place, the number of Resident Magistrates and Supreme Court Judges serving both the civil and criminal courts have been increased to 70 and 42 respectively over the last four years.
This, she notes, is complemented by the cohort of Clerks of Courts in the Resident Magistrates Courts and a total of forty-three (43) Crown Counsel in the Office the Director of Public Prosecutions.
Additionally, she says acquisition of property on King Street, downtown Kingston, has resulted in the total number of courtrooms at the Supreme Court increasing by seven.
Mrs. Parchment-Brown points out that the property, now known as Public Building North, has also facilitated an extension of administrative and public spaces, thereby expanding the Court’s capacity.
She also cites the opening of the Supreme Court’s Western Civil Registry in 2015, replacement of the St Thomas Resident Magistrates Court in Morant Bay in 2013, among other engagements, as part of the ongoing improvements being undertaken by the Justice Ministry.
Overall, Mrs. Parchment Brown says the Ministry aims to have “a system that is more efficient, accessible, accountable, fair, and able to deliver timely results in a cost effective manner.”
Another ongoing engagement which Mrs. Parchment-Brown says is taking place, relates to law reform being undertaken by the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel, which is responsible for drafting all the legislations channeled through Parliament.
She tells JIS News that as part of this process, a new legislative policy manual is being developed, and will be launched before the end of the year.
This, she further advises, will be accompanied by the legislative drafters’ manual for the staff, which she adds will be used to guide them in drafting future legislation.
Mrs. Parchment Brown says implementation of these reforms should result in the public having greater confidence in how laws are developed, as well as in the process of their administration.
Additionally, a prosecutors’ manual for the DPP’s office is also to be published to enlighten and guide the public about how prosecutions are undertaken in Jamaica.
This will incorporate the previously published Disclosure Protocol designed to provide a reliable and predictable framework to enhance the operation of the criminal justice system.
While the cries for ‘we want justice’ increase across the island in particular cases, for Mrs. Parchment Brown, this represents a desire by most Jamaicans for all systems to work, and for them to more accessible to the public.
She says the Justice Ministry understands this and has made it one of its priority objectives, pointing out that “we, in the justice sector, want justice to be seen and to be done.”
In this regard, Mrs. Parchment-Brown says the JRIU will continue to work to improve public knowledge about the services that are available, so they can take advantage of them and, in so doing, improve their lives.
She notes, however, that the Establishment of the National Council on Justice, chaired by Senator Golding, provides a forum for all stakeholders to identify and resolve justice issues in a timely and effective manner, and support the overall justice reform goals.
The project to implement reforms in the justice system is being funded by the Department of Foreign Affairs Trade and Development (DFATD) in Canada.
Mrs. Parchment-Brown expresses the hope that the funding arrangement will be extended until 2020, instead of ending in 2016.