The Senate on Friday (February 1) approved a Resolution increasing the monetary jurisdictional limits of the Resident Magistrate’s Court in civil matters.
Section 129A of the Judicature (Resident Magistrates) Act empowers the Minister by Order, subject to affirmative Resolution, to increase the monetary jurisdictional limits of the Resident Magistrate’s Court in civil matters.
Some of the specific increases include: for common law claims or torts, the limit is being moved from $250,000 to $1 million and for claims in which distress or replevin or property or goods is sought, the limit is moved from $50,000 to $1 million.
In respect of claims for rent or mesne profit by a landlord who is seeking recovery of possession from a tenant holding over after tenancy has expired or has been terminated by notice to quit, the limit is moved from $250,000 to $1 million. For claims by caveator to restrain land being bought under the Registration of Titles Act, the limit is moved from $450,000 to $2 million.
Opening the debate on the Resolution, Minister of Justice, Senator the Hon. Mark Golding, noted that the current maximum limit of monetary jurisdiction of the Resident Magistrate’s Court in civil matters is $250,000 for ordinary civil claims.
“The current limits result in many relatively minor civil cases being brought in the Supreme Court, which stresses the capacity of that court to handle its case load,” Senator Golding said.
He added that limits on the monetary jurisdiction of the Resident Magistrate’s Court also require that litigants around Jamaica bring these relatively minor civil claims in the Supreme Court in Kingston, which can be onerous and expensive and is also procedurally more time consuming.
“As a result, some citizens are currently being frustrated into not pursuing or abandoning their relatively small but bona fide legal claims, rather than bearing the greater expense, inconvenience and time of pursuing litigation via the more complex procedures in the Supreme Court in Kingston,” the Justice Minister said.
Senator Golding noted that the Ministry therefore, embarked upon a review of the jurisdictional limit in civil matters in the Resident Magistrate’s Court, in order to provide greater access to justice in the lower courts and to alleviate the civil case load in the Supreme Court.
Meanwhile, the Justice Minister noted that the increase in RM Court’s civil jurisdictional limit represents, in part, an adjustment to take into account the changes in the real value of the Jamaican currency over the period.
“I regard these as interim adjustments. I would have been minded to set the limit for common law claims higher, but I consider it prudent to move incrementally to avoid a situation where the additional flow of cases outstrips the existing capacity of the Resident Magistrate’s Court,” Senator Golding said.
For his part, Senator Lambert Brown, in supporting the resolution, said the country should see it as an effort on the part of the Government to allow more Jamaicans “quicker justice”.
“It also has the benefit of moving some cases from the higher courts, giving them room to deal with more serious cases,” he added.
Opposition Senator, Alexander Williams also welcomed the increases in the monetary jurisdictional limits of the Resident Magistrate’s Court in civil matters.
“What we want is to increase justice and to increase access to justice. Sometimes access to justice is hindered by the cost. Sometimes what it would cost to pursue a particular claim may or may not make the particular bit of ligation worthwhile,” Senator Williams said.
He added that the Resident Magistrate’s Court “is supposed to be quick justice. You are supposed to be able to go there, have your dispute resolved in a matter of months.”
“Too often this doesn’t happen. So, I broadly welcome the increase in the limits and I also welcome the fact, as the Minister puts it, he will review these limits on an annual basis,” Senator Williams said.
The Resolution will be sent to the House of Representatives for its approval after which it will be gazetted and made into law.