Right Steps & Poui Trees


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Jamaica’s Chief Justice Speaks to the Nation

On Sunday, March 10, 2019, Jamaica’s Chief Justice, Hon. Justice Mr Bryan Sykes, made a national address that was widely carried in the electronic media. The Chief Justice’s address has been described as unprecedented and both the fact of the address itself and its contents have been the subject of much comment and discussion.

JIS photo of Chief Justice Bryan Sykes

Chief Justice of Jamaica,  Hon. Mr Justice Bryan Sykes (JIS photo)

I welcome the Chief Justice’s decision to speak directly to the people of Jamaica in a broadcast of this kind and his willingness to give these public commitments for improvements in the justice system, including some very specific ones with timelines, for which he can be held accountable. There is obviously some concern about whether the commitments made can actually be accomplished, given that they have to do with longstanding issues of delays and backlogs.  I assume that Chief Justice Sykes has assessed the challenges and thinks that they are surmountable. He has asked for the support of all stakeholders in working to achieve these goals and the public nature of the commitments increases the pressure on those with direct control and responsibility to carry out their roles assiduously. If any of the commitments is not met, his national address has set a paradigm of transparency which would require him to come back to the people to explain exactly what happened to prevent its achievement.

Some of the specific commitments and timelines are:

  • In divorce matters, once the documents are submitted error free, the decree absolute will be issued within 16 weeks.
  • By December 31, 2019, there will be no outstanding divorces.
  • In relation to matters of probate and letters of administration, that is, establishing the validity of wills and dealing with the estates of persons who died without a will, once all documents are submitted error free, the Supreme Court Staff will ensure that these take no longer than 12 weeks.
  • By December 31, 2019, all outstanding judgments in the Supreme Court will be delivered.
  • As of 2020, a judgment should be delivered within 90 days, and in exceptional cases, 180 days following completion of the case

We are more used to members of the Legislature or the Executive making national addresses; to have the head of the Judiciary make such an address is new. Hopefully the promise of this address will be fulfilled.

Text & Video of Address

JIS CJ Sykes speech

The text of the address is posted on the Jamaica Information Service (JIS) website and below it on the website is a video of the address. I have posted the full text here:

Chief Justice of Jamaica, Hon. Mr. Justice Bryan Sykes OJ, CD: Address to the Nation

Good evening Jamaica. I am Bryan Sykes, your Chief Justice. When I took the oath of office, one year ago, it was with a deep sense of gratitude and humility.

I understood the complexity, as well as the magnitude of the work that needed to be done to transform the judicial arm of government with excellence and efficiency at its core.

It was also with the recognition that if Jamaica is to achieve vision 2030, the Jamaican Judiciary must remain strong and maintain its integrity. In this regard I must recognize the contribution of previous Chief Justices and Judges.

I am making it my mandate for us to have excellent courts. Excellent courts rest on three pillars. First, trial and hearing date certainty.

This means that the trial or hearing takes place on the day it is listed to begin. We no longer set multiple trials for each courtroom as this always lead to adjournments.

Unnecessary delays will not be accommodated.

We must get to the point where matters begin on the day they are scheduled, and move away from the culture of multiple adjournments and mention dates. The culture shift has begun to produce desirable results in the Supreme Court and Parish Courts.

The Court of Appeal should also increase its disposal rate as, since January 2019, there are now three additional judges with three more to be added later in this year.

The consequence of hearing and trial date certainty is that cases are disposed of within stated time standards.

In Jamaica this means disposing of cases within 24 months of entry into the courts.

In some Divisions of the Supreme Court, the Gun Court and Parish Courts that statistics show that more than 100 cases are being disposed of for every 100 cases filed.

For the first time last year seven Parish Courts had a clearance rate over 100%. This has set the platform for us to clear the current backlog within six years.

Secondly, excellent courts are efficient. Time, human and material resources are properly utilized to produce the best outcomes.

It is our goal to decrease the waiting time for the adjudication of some matters. For example, in divorce matters, once the documents are submitted error free, the decree absolute will be issued within 16 weeks. By December 31, 2019, there will be no outstanding divorces. That is our commitment to you.

In relation to matters of probate and letters of administration, that is, establishing the validity of wills and dealing with the estates of persons who died without a will, once all documents are submitted error free, the Supreme Court Staff will ensure that these take no longer than 12 weeks. That is our commitment to you.

Thirdly, excellent courts mean that we have a culture of service among staff and judges. Research has shown that the perception of court users is influenced by how they are treated and not only by the outcome of their cases.

Therefore, as our customer service charter states, court staff will be courteous, respectful, fair and prompt. We have ongoing training for court staff to improve their basic customer service and stress management skills. This will continue as we aim for first world standards.

My vision is for our Judiciary to be the best in the Caribbean Region in three years and among the best in the world in six years beginning March 1, 2019.

To support this vision, I give my commitment to put in place measures so that by December 31, 2019 all outstanding judgments in the Supreme Court will be delivered. As of 2020 a judgment should be delivered within 90 days, and in exceptional cases, 180 days following completion of the case.

Courts will start on time and trial time productively utilized. All stakeholders – judges, court staff, witnesses, jurors, attorneys at law, police officers and others, despite the many challenges they face, must resolve to come to court to assist in the administration of justice.

The Judiciary that I lead will ensure that Jamaica is the place of choice to live, work, raise families, do business and retire in peace and safety.

Join the Judiciary and partner with us, as we work to strengthen the rule of law in Jamaica land we love. Thank you.

Additional Document of Interest

Parish Courts of Jamaica 2018 report coverTHE CHIEF JUSTICE’S ANNUAL STATISTICS REPORT ON CRIMINAL MATTERS IN THE PARISH COURTS 2018

 

 

 

 

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Morning Radio, Jamaica: February 28, 2002

Listening to morning radio is a ritual for me and has been for decades. Last week I came across a tape I had made of a segment of the Breakfast Club broadcast on Thursday, February 28, 2002. I popped it into my cassette recorder (yes, I still have one!) to hear what I had recorded that day.  It was a discussion about the West Kingston Commission of Enquiry of 2002, which had ended the day before.

The Breakfast Club, with hosts Tony Abrahams and Beverley Anderson-Manley (now Beverley Anderson-Duncan) was a very popular current affairs talk radio programme. I was sometimes an in-studio guest and the on-air discussions would sometimes continue off-air, which was really fascinating.

Listen to this short piece my son Alexis and I did based on this recording. I am trying out a new medium. Any feedback would be welcome! I am contemplating a podcast series based on the hundreds of tapes I have recorded over the years.

(I am trying to locate an electronic copy of the Commission of Enquiry’s report and will post it here once I find one.)

 


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Sunday Morning with a Two-Year-Old

So much happens when you babysit a two-year-old on a Sunday morning. She climbs up on your lap and sees the lone piece of a building set sitting on your desk beside your laptop and she asks a question, “What is that, Grandma?”img_20190113_233534_resized_20190113_113557604 building set

And I know her question isn’t a purely factual one. She doesn’t want me to say, “It’s part of your building set, sweetie.” It is an invitation to enter that world of pretending that she so loves. I suggest it is a cell phone, but that doesn’t catch her imagination this morning. “It could be a crayon,” I say and, yes, that is what she pretends it is. And we use it to colour a pretend sun, a pretend moon and a pretend orange, all on the surface of my desk. “Eat the orange, Grandma,” she says and then the building set piece transforms into a knife, which she uses to cut the pretend orange, so that I can eat it.

Later, as she sits on the veranda ledge, holding onto the grills and swinging her legs outside, we discuss the ways in which we are the same as our dogs outside and different from them. She likes same and different. We have ears, we have eyes, we have mouths. We have hands and feet, but they have paws. “I have toes and Bala has toes.” But no hands. No fingers. And suddenly we are into a long discussion about what we can do with our hands and fingers that the dogs can’t do. Colour with crayons. Put on our shoes. Pick up a piece of tomato to eat.

Tomatoes are red. “Red is my favourite colour,” she says, as she picks up a piece of tomato from the bowl and puts in into her mouth. “Watermelon is red too,” I say, only to be told, “Looks like pink to me.” And now we talk about the colours of all the foods we like to eat. Brown naseberries and lentil stew. Orange carrots and pawpaw and pumpkin soup. Green callaloo and broccoli. And what colour exactly is rice and peas?

Time and perspective shift in the company of my granddaughter. Such a gift.


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Happy New Year 2019!

It’s a week since the New Year began. I had planned to do this post last week to welcome the new year. I had intended to write a much longer, more reflective post, but I didn’t. So here are the two photos I was going to use to illustrate that more interesting post that I didn’t write.

Sunset, December 31, 2018last sunset 2018

Sunrise, January 1, 2019p1360170 sunrise jan 1 2019

Happy New Year!

 


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Sunrise Surprise!

Any morning that I head to the roof  to watch the sun rise, I am never quite sure what I will see.  Even as I climb the spiral staircase, navigating the narrow space left by the recently installed guttering, I am uncertain what will greet me. Like the morning I took this series of photos…a chilly, overcast morning. Grey was the main colour, as I sat and drank my tea. Little did I know the drama that was about to unfold!sunrise series 5

A heavy bank of clouds hung low in the eastern sky, over a bowl where two hills overlapped. As the sunlight began to shine up from behind the hills, a pink pattern started to appear on the clouds.sunrise series

I  realised that nature was deciding to dance this morning and I was a lucky witness! Brighter pink and over a larger area of cloud…sunrise series 1

And this was the finale! The sky on fire…transformed…sunrise series 6

Tea forgotten; no journaling done. I watched, transfixed. Bathed in this sunrise surprise….IMG_20181118_061515_1_resized_20181216_060007607 sunrise

 


Long-Awaited Joint Select Committee Report on Review of Sexual Offences & Other Acts

The long-awaited report from the Joint Select Committee reviewing the Sexual Offences Act, the Offences Against the Person Act, the Domestic Violence Act and the Child Care and Protection Act was tabled in the Parliament yesterday, December 11, 2018.

The review of the four Acts had its origin in a Private Members Motion tabled by then Opposition Senator Kamina Johnson Smith in 2013. A previous Committee began the review in 2014, but didn’t complete the review before the general elections in 2016. The new Committee began its deliberations in January 2017 and held nineteen meetings. More than thirty submissions were made by entities or individuals.

I have not yet read the report in detail, but am posting it on my blog to provide a copy for those who wish to read and consider it.

JSC report cover

                                                      (Click on link below)

Joint Select Committee Report – Review of Sexual Offences & Other Acts December 2018


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The Auditor General’s Petrojam Report & International Anti-Corruption Day

Today is International Anti-Corruption Day and in recognition of that I thought I would post the Auditor General’s Petrojam report which was tabled in Parliament last Tuesday, December 4, 2018. In the days following its release, the report has been the focus of a great deal of discussion in traditional and social media, and has gained a lot of public interest. Prime Minister Andrew Holness is to have a media briefing tomorrow (Monday) morning and it is expected that he will address this issue during the briefing.

Auditor General's Petrojam Report Dec 2018 - cover

A Review of Aspects of PCJ and a Comprehensive Audit of Petrojam Limited – Auditor General December 2018

Auditor General Pamela Monroe Ellis’ Forward to the report reads as follows:

The Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica (PCJ) is a statutory organization created by the Petroleum Act, with the exclusive right to explore and develop the petroleum resources of Jamaica. It is also the Government agency charged with the responsibility for facilitating the development of the country’s energy resources in a manner that supports the overall strategy for national development in support of the National Energy Policy and Vision 2030 National Development Plan (NDP). PCJ’s subsidiary Petrojam’s primary function is to import and convert crude oil into various types of petroleum products for supply and use in the domestic market. Both PCJ and Petrojam’s governance practices and financial operations are subjected to the Public Bodies Management & Accountability (PBMA) Act, GOJ Corporate Governance and Accountability Frameworks and applicable guidelines issued by the Ministry of Finance and the Public Service (MoFPS).

Stemming from public concerns regarding mismanagement at Petrojam, I commissioned a comprehensive audit using the performance, compliance and special audit methodologies, as well as financial statements assessment of Petrojam. I also reviewed specified areas of PCJ to assess whether its practices were consistent with the principles of good financial management and whether the practices accorded with GOJ Guidelines and good practices, to attain value for money. I also sought to assess whether PCJ provided robust oversight to Petrojam, based on its parent subsidiary relationship. This report is a compendium of the findings of the reviews of both entities.

The audit revealed a number of deficiencies, which have since been brought to the attention of the management of PCJ and Petrojam. I have proffered a number of recommendations for implementation aimed at strengthening the governance arrangements at both entities. However, I believe that these recommendations are of relevance to all public bodies and should be considered by the Office of the Cabinet and Ministry of Finance and the Public Service (MoFPS) for sector-wide implementation.

Thanks to the management and staff of Petrojam and PCJ for their co-operation and assistance during the audit.

On page 6, there is a useful visual summary, but the report is worth reading in its entirety.

Auditor General's Petrojam report p 6 visual summary

Auditor General’s Petrojam report, p 6

The Auditor General’s Reports

In 2016, the Jamaica Civil Society Coalition and Caribbean Vulnerable Communities published a review of the Auditor General’s reports for the period 2010 – 2015, which is a useful document to refer to in the current context.

Auditor Genera's assessment report - cover

Auditor General’s Reports and MDA Accountability Assessment 2010 – 2015

The Executive Summary gives an indication of the purpose of the review:

“This report focuses primarily on the Auditor General’s Department, its work, the support it receives from the wider accountability environment and the level of responsiveness from other public officials (especially the Public Accounts Committee). The report looks at the crucial question of sanctions – who has the authority to sanction, what sanctions are available and are they being used.The research was undertaken against the background of decades long, public cries of concern for the lack of accountability, repeated reports of waste and public perception of corruption.

As coalitions of civil society groups, both the Jamaica Civil Society Coalition and the Caribbean Vulnerable Communities Coalition desired a fuller understanding of Jamaica’s accountability environment and if and how the public can strengthen the work of the Auditor General. Shedding further light on the auditor general’s findings and the state of governance as well as building understanding of the accountability framework in order to better use it are main goals of the research.” p. 8

Jeanette Calder, researcher and writer for this review and one of the people most familiar with reports of Auditor General’s Department, tweeted this the day after the Petrojam report was tabled in Parliament:

JC tweet re Petrojam report Dec 5 2018

Former Contractor General Greg Christie has also tweeted about the Petrojam report, including the following:Christie tweet re Petrojam report 5-12-18

International Anti-Corruption Day

December 9 is celebrated as International Anti-Corruption Day.

“Corruption begets more corruption, and fosters a corrosive culture of impunity. The United Nations Convention against Corruption is among our primary tools for advancing the fight. Sustainable Development Goal 16 and its targets also offer a template for action.”
— UN Secretary-General, António Guterres
Christie tweet re corruption 7-12-18
We wait to see how the government responds to this latest report and allegations of waste, mismanagement and corruption and whether we, the public, will resist the 9-day-wonder syndrome.