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Fifty-two employees of the Kingston Family Court, who participated in a seven-month training course, were presented with certificates of completion at a graduation exercise held on Thursday (Nov. 24) at the Knutsford Court Hotel.
The court staff, which included judges, court administrators, accountants and police personnel, were exposed to diverse training modules that sought to improve their understanding of the family court system and how to better interact with the court’s clients.
Minister of Justice and Attorney General, Senator A.J. Nicholson, in his address at the graduation ceremony, congratulated the participants, telling them: “you have taken the steps to equip yourselves with the kind of knowledge that will empower you to perform your tasks more effectively and allow you to enhance your own well-being and be able to continue to contribute to the development of your Jamaican brothers and sisters.”
Senator Nicholson said that with globalisation, citizens have come to expect and demand more from the justice system.
“They expect quality of service to continue to rise and they expect the dispensing and administration of justice to be more than acceptable. All progressive countries have been forced to adapt their systems of governance to respond to this global framework,” he stated, noting that many new pieces of legislation were being enacted to reflect these global trends.
“Jamaica can clearly not choose to divorce herself from those imperatives,” he stressed, “we are obliged to interact meaningfully with our global partners; hence, we seek to align and adapt our laws and practices to these universal requirements”.
Providing an overview of the course, Team Leader in the Social Unit of the University of the West Indies (UWI), Dr. Peta-Ann Baker, informed that the programme, which ran from April to December of 2004, was developed following a needs assessment, which involved consultation with the court’s staff as well as its clients.
“We thought it necessary for us to go and talk to the staff in the family court system, to talk to the clients, including the children who come before the court, and to hear from them what their perceptions of the family court were,” Dr. Baker explained.
She said that among the issues addressed in the training programme, which was facilitated on weekends, were case management, counselling issues, and working with families.
Noting that the court staff was also exposed to a session on anger management, Dr. Baker said this was a relevant session, “as many times the staff in the court encounter people when they are in their least good mood, and so we need to look at how to deal with people, who are confronting issues which cause then to be behaving in inappropriate ways”.
On the matter of the perception of the family court being a “women’s court”, where men are sometimes marginalised, she said that attempts were being made to address the issue of men’s rights.
“We recognised that when the family court was established more than 20 years ago, there were many issues relating to the status of women, which needed to be highlighted and emphasised, that women needed to have a place where they could feel confident that their stories would be heard and dealt with fairly,” she explained.
Continuing, she said, “I think, however, our understanding of women and gender issues have evolved and therefore, we recognise we need additional skillsto address the matter of the men, who are also a part of the family court system.”
While acknowledging that many of the persons, who participated in the programme already had professional qualifications, degrees and certificates,Dr. Baker emphasised that, “we never stop learning, times change, new knowledge becomes available (and) we discover new ways of addressing old problems. there is always something new for us to learn, and I think our clients, those whom we serve, demand nothing less of us”.
In addition to the 52 graduates of the Kingston Family Court, a total of 136 persons have benefited from training in the family courts across the island. As part of the training, judges and senior staff of the courts went on a one-week study tour in New York, facilitated by the American Administration of Children Services, where they observed the family court system in that jurisdiction.
In addition to observing an actual court in session, the Jamaicans visited facilities for persons with mental illness and substance abuse problems and looked at the use of electronic technology in the court system.