Editorial

If justice delayed is justice denied…

Monday, October 22, 2018

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Such is the influence of the United States, our mighty neighbour to the north, that Jamaicans are invariably pleased when Washington is pleased with them.

According to yesterday's Sunday Observer, the US Embassy in Kingston is reporting its satisfaction that Jamaican courts are now showing “historic improvements” — processing three times as many criminal cases as a year and a half ago. The embassy says the clearance rate now stands at 96 per cent.

“This figure has been steadily growing from 35 cases per 100 in early 2017 to 57 cases in mid-2017, to 74 cases in late 2017, to 94 cases in early 2018,” the embassy is reported as saying.

The US Embassy makes the telling point that at the Half-Way-Tree Court, the clearance rate is now 116 per cent, which means courthouse staff are clearing more cases than are coming in and are making headway “on the multi-year backlog of cases”.

The US Embassy points to its country's assistance programmes, including training of judges, defence lawyers and other court staff which, it says, have helped significantly. Justice Minister Delroy Chuck has also drawn attention to the improved efficiencies.

Earlier this month Mr Chuck told Parliament that 11 courts have achieved case clearance rates of more than 90 per cent in the second quarter of 2018, and that overall clearance rate for the same period was 98 per cent — up nine percentage points over the first quarter.

And last month he was reported as saying that the justice sector is far advanced in its push to clear up more than 30,000 backlogged cases by 2020, having disposed of one-third of that number since 2016.

Indeed, the newspaper believes believe Mr Chuck, Chief Justice Bryan Sykes, and others in the leadership and supporting cast of the justice system deserve high praise.

We recall the zeal with which Mr Chuck took over the justice portfolio in early 2016, pledging to do all in his power to drag Jamaica's courts into the 21st century. We believe he is now better able to sleep at nights knowing that, while the job remains a long way from being done, progress is accelerating.

We are aware that Mr Chuck is targeting such measures as plea bargaining and mediation to bring even greater speed and efficiency to courthouse business.

A major headache relates to physical infrastructure with new courthouses needed in several parishes. We expect that as Government's debt-reduction programme accelerates, more and more money will become available to deal with such shortcomings.

In some cases, delays relate to localised problems. In Manchester, for example, land is available outside the town for a structure to replace the historic Mandeville Courthouse, which is a national heritage site. The problem, as we understand it, is that local consensus is yet to be reached that the justice centre should be moved from the town centre.

In Montego Bay, as we understand it, plans for a new courthouse are on hold apparently because of commercial considerations relating to identified land.

Yet, for all the hurdles, it is clear that real progress is being made to modernise Jamaica's justice system and that there is light ahead. If it is true that justice delayed is justice denied, then we are in a good place indeed.

Congrats to all concerned.

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