Right Steps & Poui Trees


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

 

 

 

 


350 Words or Less: Respect Due To These Strong Women on #InternationalWomensDay

Some of the strongest and most inspiring women I have met over the past seventeen years are women who have been seeking justice for relatives who have been killed by members of the security forces here in Jamaica. Mothers, grandmothers, sisters, wives, baby mothers, girlfriends, daughters seeking justice for sons and grandsons, daughters and mothers, brothers and fathers, husbands, baby fathers, boyfriends, friends. More often than not their relatives have been shot and killed by the police; though sometimes they have been killed by soldiers and sometimes they have been killed other than by gunshots.

Women like Jenny Cameron, Leonie Marshall, Monica Williams, Millicent Forbes, Joan McKoy, Paulette Rose, Meloney Lewis, Paulette Wellington. Perhaps I shouldn’t have named any of the women, because in doing so, I leave out so many, many more who have also shown and continue to show tremendous courage and determination, through their grief, in the face of direct threats and intimidation, over years of navigating the frustrating justice system and often with an additional, lingering stigma when a relative has been killed by the police.

Many of these women have spoken out publicly, calling for justice for their relatives and also for other families. In a radio interview recently, Shackelia Jackson – whose brother was killed by the police in 2014 and who has become a strong activist since – spoke about the importance of the voices of family members. And this is so true. When victims and their families speak about their experiences, it carries a particular power and impact.

Today, on International Women’s Day, I want to acknowledge with respect all these women who have, in particularly difficult situations, shown such strength in their stand for justice.

 


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Resumption of the Death Penalty?

Calls for the resumption of hanging in Jamaica are made periodically, often at a time when there is an increase in the number of murders or in a period when there have been particularly vicious or high profile murders. People are understandably angry, afraid and frustrated and want to see something done to curb violent crimes and  punish those who commit murder. The death penalty seems like an uncomplicated action to call for, a finite action with seeming immediacy to it. And so the call: reintroduce the death penalty; start hanging again.

JIS Robert MontagueThe call  has over time been made by people in various spheres across the society and the latest call has come from Minister of National Security Robert Montague, in a speech at a Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) Passing Out Parade and Awards Ceremony  at the National Police College of Jamaica, at Twickenham Park, on  April 29. (Click here for JIS release: Govt. to Wage Relentless War against Criminals)

 

Mr. Montague said the Ministry’s overall approach to creating safer communities is based on five key pillars –  crime prevention through social development; situational prevention; effective policing; swift and sure justice processes; and reducing re-offending. (JIS – April 30, 2016)

It was while speaking about justice processes that Minister Montague made his comments about the resumption of hanging:

These first two pillars will be further buffeted (sic) by having an effective system in place that increases the risk to criminals of getting caught, to bringing more of them to justice and delivering sure, swift yet just punishment. It cannot be that persons feel comfortable to exact criminality but do not expect to be severely punished. Persons who intend to break the law must know that the punishment will be sure, swift and just. In that regard I have asked the Minister of State, Senator Pearnel Charles, Jr to consult with a number of agencies, including the Attorney General’s Office and the Ministry of Justice to determine if there are any legal impediments for the resumption of hanging in Jamaica.

Minister Montague

(Click for transcript of Excerpt from Speech by Minister of Security Robert Montague – April 29, 2016 dealing with the five key pillars mentioned above.)

Last week, when I first heard an audio clip from the Minister’s speech during a newscast, his phrase “sure, swift and just” struck me. This is certainly something that is needed as part of the strategy to deal with violent crime.

Sure: What is the likelihood that someone who commits murder in Jamaica will be apprehended, tried and convicted for their crime?

The JCF’s Corporate Plan for 2015-2018 states that for the period 2009- 2014, “The combination of improved investigative capabilities and the application of technology have paid rich dividends, which resulted in a 41 percent cleared-up rate for murder; 72 percent for aggravated assault; 41 percent for shooting and just below 50 percent for rape.” In a 2013 article in the Jamaica Observer, then DCP in charge of crime (now Commissioner of Police) Carl Williams explained the meaning of “cleared-up” in the Jamaican policing context:

Commissioner-of-Police-Carl-McKay-Williams“Clear-up rate of murders are a little below 50 per cent right now, but my mission is to ensure that we get it above 50 per cent for murders, so we may ensure that a person is less likely to get away with murder than to be out there walking free to commit other murders,” Williams said.

Noting that the clear-up of crimes is the clearest measure of effectiveness of investigators or detectives, Williams — in clarifying what is meant by the term — noted that in some countries a crime is cleared up when the police identify the suspect. However, this is different for Jamaica as Williams explained that clearing-up of a crime not only occurs when the suspect is identified but when he/she is arrested and charged following a process of investigation.

“A crime may also be cleared up if the person responsible for the crime is unavailable for arrest and prosecution by virtue of the fact that he is dead or in custody in another jurisdiction,” Williams further explained. (Jamaica Observer – Dec 4, 2013)

According to the JCF, the cleared-up rate for 2015 was 55%, which indicates an improvement in their figures, but still means there is a great likelihood that someone who commits murder will not even face prosecution for the crime.

There is an even more remote likelihood that a person who commits murder will be convicted, as the conviction rate for murder in Jamaica is cited as 5%.

So we do not have a sure system. If there is a 95% chance that you will never be convicted, it doesn’t much matter whether the sentence is hanging or life imprisonment. In fact, what has been shown to have the greatest deterrent effect is the likelihood of being apprehended and convicted for the crime, not whether the punishment will be the death penalty.

Swift: How quickly is a person who has been charged with murder likely to be tried?

Long delays are the norm in our justice system and this has been so for decades. A March 31, 2016 Gleaner article contained this information:

paulaLlewellynThere were 522 cases on the court list at the start of the Hilary term in January, and, according to Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Paula Llewellyn, 127 of them are five years or older – all murder cases.

Llewellyn, who was speaking at the start of the Easter term yesterday, said 96 of these cases are down for trial during this term and that her office is ready to proceed with 51….

According to Llewellyn, 526 cases are on the Circuit Court list for this Easter term. That number includes the 504 cases that were rolled over from the previous term, 328 of which were for murder. (Daily Gleaner – March 31, 2016) 

There have been cases which have not come to trial until 7, 8, 9 or 10 years after the murder was committed. In recent discussions about the perennial delays in the justice system, many causes were given, as they have been in the past. There is a great deal of work to be done to make our systems deliver justice swiftly, or even in a timely manner, as envisaged by the Mission Statement of Jamaica’s Courts.

Just: How do you guarantee a just outcome in a flawed and corrupt system?

Beyond the fundamental issue of whether the death penalty can be classified as a  just punishment, lies the question of the dangers posed to justice by a flawed and corrupt system. On page 26 of the 2008 JCF Strategic Review Report, a number of corrupt practices said to be endemic in the police force are listed, some of them having the potential to impact directly on the outcome of an investigation, prosecution and conviction.

Strategic review of JCF pg 26 with border

There have been instances in which physical violence and threats have been used to obtain confessions; statements have been forged by policemen to support a case; evidence has disappeared (eaten by rats or burned up in mysterious fires); files have gone missing; etc.

Long delays have also given rise to the death, migration or other unavailability of witnesses,  or the fading of memories with time. Issues of inadequate legal representation or access to resources to support a case also have the potential to impact a just outcome. Cases in other jurisdictions have seen DNA evidence exonerating people who have been serving long sentences for crimes they were wrongly convicted of. Do we believe that our justice system is free of such cases?

All these problems also affect cases which carry sentences other than capital punishment, and can result in unjust outcomes too. But where the sentence is death, should the State take the risk of executing a person for a crime they did not commit?

Opposition Spokesperson Responds

Opposition Spokesperson on Justice & Governance, Senator Mark Golding gave a useful response the next day, in a press release which included the following:

The Opposition Spokesperson on Justice & Governance stated – “I do not regard Minister Montague’s announcement that the Government is seeking ‘to determine if there are any legal impediments for the resumption of hanging in Jamaica’ as a serious policy initiative that will be implemented. The Government can’t hang more people; nor, as a practical matter, can Parliament.  Only the Courts can make that happen, and the Courts are governed by the rule of law and, in particular, the human rights guarantees in our Constitution.

mark goldingIt should also be borne in mind that the reactivation of the death penalty, after a de facto moratorium over the 28 years since 1988, will bring condemnation on Jamaica, and possibly even adverse action, by those of our most important international development partners that are most hostile to the death penalty (e.g. the European Union and Canada), and trigger strongly adverse criticism from the international human rights community.  The Government must decide if it wants to inflict that on Jamaica at this time, and we as a society must also be very clear that we are doing the correct thing and for the correct reasons. 

Full release: Opposition responds to Minister Montague’s comments on the Death Penalty 30-4-16

There is a great deal to be done to prevent and deal with violent crime in Jamaica. Both Minister Montague and Senator Golding refer to some of these other measures. People may think that in calling for the resumption of the death penalty, they are calling for something straightforward and effective, that can be implemented quickly, with immediate results on the murder rate. This is not so. And part of my concern whenever this call comes up is that it diverts attention and energy from the measures which will in fact have a real impact. A sure, swift and just system will impact the levels of crime, without the resumption of the death penalty, which I do not support for a number of reasons.