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.
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
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