JIS News

Work on the review of the Jamaican justice system has begun, with the arrival of personnel from the Canadian Bar Association (CBA).
The team, which will operate from the Ministry of Justice’s Oxford Road premises, will be in the island for two weeks initially, to begin the nine-month review.
“They have mapped out an approach, which is welcomed,” Communications Manager at the Ministry of Justice, Michael Cohen tells JIS News, noting that a significant part of the work will include communicating with stakeholders and citizens when the project reaches critical levels.
The Ministry, on August 31 this year, signed a CDN$1 million contract with the CBA and the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), to undertake a comprehensive review of the justice system. The initiative, which also involves the Public Sector Reform Unit of the Cabinet Office, is the first of its kind to be undertaken in the island.
It is just one of many projects being implemented by the Ministry, which received a budget allocation of some $436 million for the 2006/07 fiscal period. The amount is nearly as much as the accumulated allocation to the Ministry over the last 22 years.
In outlining some of the projects and programmes, which are being carried out with the funds, Mr. Cohen informs of an ongoing computerization initiative.
“We have made a concerted effort in the Resident Magistrate Courts, putting in data ports, buying all the peripherals, and along with that, carrying out training for staff. Some computerization work was also done in the Supreme Court so that we could run the JEMS (Judicial Enforcement Management Systems) programme,” he says, explaining that with this programme, data is managed and stored electronically.
Since the beginning of this financial year, this system has been expanded allowing for the addition of more hardware. Minister of Justice and Attorney General, Senator A. J. Nicholson, recently noted that JEMS “provides such a standard, what with its capacity to facilitate and store a dazzling array of data input on any person, who has come before any court, which uses this system”.
At a cost of $18.2 million, the computerization system for the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal involves the installation of 65 computers and expansion of the network for greater ease of electronic communication between both courts. “One of the features of the software is that we can know who served (jury duty) where and when, so it minimizes any likelihood of having to repeat duty,” Mr. Cohen says.
Meanwhile, the operations of the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) is also being enhanced through computerization and staff training, which is carried out by the Justice Training Institute.
Mr. Cohen explains that the $27.87 million computerization initiative at that Office is “not just hardware, its also specialized prosecutorial software with the capability for access from the prosecutors’ or judges’ homes. Information is accessed based on the level of the personnel and their needs”.
In addition, some five servers have been installed, 50 work stations, and scanners.
Turning to capital works, Mr. Cohen informs that the Balaclava Courthouse is being rebuilt, while special features are being established at the Santa Cruz Courthouse to facilitate petty sessions. Plans are also being implemented to relocate the corporate area Traffic Court on South Camp Road, and the Coroner’s Court on East Street in Kingston, to more appropriate premises.
In addition, land has been secured to build a new courthouse in Morant Bay, while the Family Court in Kingston is up and running, having been relocated from King Street to Duke Street. “The facilities are far more conducive to family matters,” Mr. Cohen asserts. This initiative, which was completed in the 2005/2006 fiscal period at a cost of $10 million, was supported by the Canadian High Commission, the Citizens and Justice Programme, and the Inter-American Development Bank. Funds will also be allocated to relocate some of the registry staff from the Supreme Court to premises opposite the Urban Development Corporation car park. “We have also put in facilities so that when the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) has any sitting in Jamaica, these will be in place for that.it includes judges chambers also,” he informs, adding that, “we are trying to install two elevators (at the Supreme Court), and that takes a lot of money. There are two considerations here: security, which is the separation of prisoners from the members of the public, who are using the court, as well as for those who are physically handicapped”.
As set out in the Estimates of Expenditure for this fiscal year, some $391 million is to be spent on the construction and improvement of courthouses across the island.