The Ministry of Justice, under the leadership of portfolio Minister, Senator Hon. Mark Golding, has pushed a number of initiatives aimed at strengthening the justice system over the last 100 days.
Among the measures undertaken was the opening of four restorative justice centres in the communities of Tower Hill, Kingston; Spanish Town, St. Catherine; May Pen, Clarendon; and Granville, St. James. The facilities, which were opened during Restorative Week from February 5 to 11, is part of the Ministry’s thrust to enhance the access of Jamaicans to justice, while promoting social cohesion.
Restorative Justice Week was held under the theme: ‘One People, One Spirit, One Justice’, and include a national church service; essay and poster competitions; exhibitions at the Jamaica Library Service and Supreme Court; and a justice run between Stony Gut, St. Thomas, and Spanish Town, St. Catherine, the route traversed by National Hero, Paul Bogle in 1865.
The week also featured a public lecture and fairs at Emancipation Park, Kingston, and the Montego Bay Civic Centre. It concluded on February 4, with a gala concert at Emancipation Park.
Meanwhile, a number of judges were sworn into higher office, while Justices of the Peace (JP) were appointed across the island.
At a ceremony held at King’s House on January 13, Governor-General, His Excellency the Most Hon. Sir Patrick Allen swore in Court of Appeal Judge, Hon. Justice Hazel Harris to act for President of the Court of Appeal, Hon. Justice Seymour Panton; Justice Patrick Brooks was sworn in as Court of Appeal Judge; while Evon Brown and Nicole Simmons were sworn in as puisne judges of the Supreme Court.
Senior Resident Magistrate Vivene Harris was also sworn in as puisne judge of the Supreme Court on April 10.
Senator Golding, who attended the swearing in ceremony for 71JPs for the parish of St. Catherine on January 12, encouraged them to show an interest in the court system, and to avail themselves of the training available in that area, “so that you can play your part in trying to improve Jamaica’s justice system, which is central to the civilization of this country”.
Also, the Ministry of Justice and the Canadian University Service Overseas (CUSO) International signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to enable the establishment of the Children in Court – Court Prep Programme.
Modeled off the Canadian ‘Kids-in-Court’ project, the initiative is aimed at improving the capacity of the justice system and justice system workers to provide adequate and child sensitive psycho-social support to children who appear before Jamaican courts.
The MoU is expected to last for an initial three years and will be implemented through the Victim Support Unit (VSU), working in collaboration with CUSO International. The expertise from several of CUSO’s volunteers will be utilised over the three-year period to complement and partner with the current expertise at the VSU.
As part of the initiative, the Ministry, on March 8 received Children in Court – Court Prep Resource Kits from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), which are geared towards teaching children about the court environment.
The unique Resource Kits include a model Court house and therapeutic play materials. Speaking at the handing over ceremony Senator Golding said the materials will improve the way children interact with the court system.
“A courtroom is not a natural environment for a child, it is a very formal process with very serious adults dealing with very serious business and so it is not surprising that children find it a particularly intimidating environment in which they are expected to provide evidence,” he said.
In the meantime, thousands of residents from Montego Bay, St. James and the wider western Jamaica have been sensitised about the offerings of the Justice Ministry and all its associated agencies and departments, and provided with information about their basic rights and responsibilities.
This was done at two justice fairs staged concurrently by the Ministry at the Montego Bay Civic Centre and at Emancipation Park in Kingston, on February 11.
The agencies and departments of the Ministry erected education booths, where information was provided for the residents.
Among the agencies and departments were: the Victim Support Unit; Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions; Administrator General; Office of the Trustee in Bankruptcy; Justice Training Institute; Legal Reform Unit; Restorative Justice Unit; Legal Aid Council; Office of the Parliamentary Council; Court Management Services; and the Attorney General’s Department.
Meanwhile, the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM) opened its first satellite centre in the eastern parish of St. Thomas in an effort to increase access to its services. The centre was opened during a special church service for the handing over of the keys to the facility on February 19.
The centre, which is located at the Coke Methodist Church in Morant Bay, will be open every Friday at 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., to facilitate residents of the parish, who may have concerns relating to police excesses.
Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Justice, Robert Rainford, congratulated INDECOM for reaching out to the people of St. Thomas. “It is a commendable move and it is good to see that in less than two years, you have taken the step to reach out to the rest of Jamaica and ensuring that the people of St. Thomas receive the service that they so deserve,” he stated.