JUSTICE reform implementation is a job that requires dedication, drive and commitment. In fact, the seemingly colossal task of building capacity in the justice sector institutions does not interest many individuals until they are directly affected.
But for attorney-at-law Althea McBean, it is one of her many passions which she wholeheartedly executes in leading the Justice Reform Implementation Unit (JRIU) in the Ministry of Justice.
Born in St Mary, but raised in Kingston, McBean, an attorney of 18 years, told All Woman that after completing a first degree in English and history at the University of the West Indies, she transitioned into law based on her passions and natural skill set.
“I heard it said so much that based on my personality — I was argumentative, spoke boldly and loudly, read a lot — the legal profession was a natural fit,” she said.
After law school, McBean worked at a firm for 10 years, became partner in her fourth year, and over time, under the mentorship of Eric Frater, amassed a wealth of experience in all the courts of Jamaica.
A former secretary of the Jamaican Bar Association, McBean was actively involved in justice reform initiatives through committee work for close to 10 years. She had the privilege of representing the profession on several committees that dealt with justice reform to include the National Council on Justice; Criminal Case Management Committee of the Supreme Court; The Bench and Bar Committee; Resident Magistrate (now Parish Court) Rules Committee, and the Detention Review Committee of Cabinet which was established to review prison conditions in Jamaica.
In addition, she implemented the introduction of continuing legal education at the bar. As a result, it came as no surprise when she transitioned from the private bar to head the JRIU.
“As the director of the JRIU I interact regularly with the representatives of donor partners to, among other things, coordinate the implementation of activities and ensure that targets are being met and to organise events. Much of the reform has taken place under the Justice Undertakings for Social Transformation (JUST) programme that is funded by the Canadian government. However, the European Union is now a very strong partner in the reform of the justice sector,” she explained.
With regards to tangible evidence of justice reform, McBean pointed out that additional courtrooms and the improvement of courthouses have come on stream, plus the extension of the Court of Appeal and the implementation of the Western Supreme Court Registry.
There has also been significant contribution in the area of technology which has seen ICT equipment being donated to the Supreme Court, the parish courts, the Ministry of Justice, the Attorney General's Chambers, and the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions.
Through the JUST Programme, McBean pointed out that a Case Information Statistical System has been implemented to track and monitor the backlog in the courts, servers have been provided to advance and automate the jury management system, and there is ongoing training of justice personnel to improve the processes in the courts and build the capacity of staff.
A graduate of St Andrew High School for Girls, McBean has also had the experience of teaching Sunday School and has a special love for children, so much so that she is appalled at the manner in which children are often treated when they have to interact with the formal justice system.
McBean hopes that with the new Child Diversion Programme about to be rolled out, children will be treated with special care and attention so they are not hardened as a result of interfacing with the courts.
“It will seek to address the needs of children and institute rehabilitation activities whereby they can be referred for treatment and address their needs, whether they be psychological, emotional or otherwise,” she said.
Outside of work, McBean enjoys playing badminton, participating in yoga and is the managing director of Suthermere Preparatory School, which she helped to restructure and prevent from being closed.
She enjoys art, especially portrait drawing, as well as calligraphy, painting and landscaping, and she also enjoys reading and travelling out of town.
Her daily mantra is: “Whatever you set your mind to, with the right environment and circumstances, you can achieve.”