JIS News

The thrust by the Ministry of Justice to introduce information technology in the island’s main courthouses is now 75 percent complete under Phases One and Two of the Resident Magistrate’s Court Computerisation Project.
To date, efforts under the initiative have seen the installation of computer hardware and software in some 12 courthouses complemented by efforts to strengthen security at these sites.
Director of Management Information Systems in the Ministry, Jacqueline Warner says the undertaking to automate the system will ” move the system into the new era of case management as the court system was lacking in how cases were disposed of.”
The project, which is one of a number of initiatives being introduced in the country’s justice system under the United States Agency for International Development/Jamaica Democracy and Governance Programme, also entails the training of court personnel charged with the responsibility to manage trial data.
The MIS Director says an integral part of the computerization process has been the training of personnel. “It is a matter of training the staff and preparing the persons who are within the justice system, to use the applications,” she adds while pointing out that the software which is “specific to courts, case management and the scheduling of cases, is a judicial management tool”.
Meanwhile the Ministry has also moved to sensitise Resident Magistrates on the merits of the drive to introduce computer technology in the courtroom, and the potential administrative efficiencies that can accrue from effective use of the Judicial Enforcement Management Software (JEMS).
Permanent Secretary in the Ministry, Carol Palmer in a release from the Ministry reiterates that the Court Computerisation Project is part of a wider effort to improve the administration of justice in Jamaica. She also notes that access to data, which would influence policy decisions, was one of a number of key benefits that would be derived from the implementation of the computerised system, which is centered on the JEMS.The Permanent Secretary says the Ministry’s intended policy of “absolute security of information,” was communicated to the project technicians “in no uncertain manner.” This restricts access to information as required and is determined largely by the job function of staff members in the courts.
Courts targeted under Phase One of the project include the Corporate Area Family Court, Traffic Court and Coroner’s Court in Kingston; as well as the Corporate Area Criminal and Civil Courts, Spanish Town and May Pen courthouses. So far staff in these courts have been benefiting from training.
The Resident Magistrates’ Courts in Montego Bay, St. Ann’s Bay, Brown’s Town, Savanna-la-mar and Mandeville are now benefiting under Phase Two of the project.
The Management Information Systems Director says the cost of the entire project, which is funded by the Ministry, and the USAID has been some $90 million to date.
In commenting on the benefits of the automation, she says these are going to be long term amounting to proper case management, better management of court information, efficient case scheduling, timely disposition of cases and far more accurate data.
In clarifying she notes, “there will be more accurate information going to the judges because they will not have to take long handed notes anymore as we have introduced court reporters who take verbatim notes of all proceedings. So you have the information coming back to the judges so that the cases can be presented quickly.” Other benefits she says accrue to the court staff who will be able to better manage cases, find cases easily, secure records, which sometimes get lost or misplaced.
Challenges to the transition she says would be in the “changing of the mindset and the culture to have persons embracing and using the system.” Furthermore she says there will be a need for additional resources to facilitate full completion of the venture.
In the meantime Phases Three and Four of the project will be dedicated to installing computers and carrying out staff training in the remaining courts.
The MIS Director says the intention was to have the project completed as soon as possible. All computers will be connected to the World Wide Web as well as the Ministry’s wide area network. There are 23 Resident Magistrate Courts in the island.

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