'Justice system not as sexy as building a highway'

Friday, October 20, 2017

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Over the years we have found Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Ms Paula Llewellyn to be someone who always speaks her mind. She has also been quite open with the public about the operations of her office and the load it has been carrying for a long time.

So, unlike the legislators who sat and listened in stunned silence on Wednesday, we were not surprised by Miss Llewellyn's presentation to the Public Administration and Appropriations Committee (PAAC) of Parliament.

The fact is that, had they been listening to her and other prosecutors over the years, they would have long ago come to recognise that the justice system is basically on life support.

Just last month at the opening of the Michaelmas Term of the Home Circuit Court, Miss Llewellyn pointed out that her office was overburdened with new cases coming into the system and that she had submitted to the Ministry of Justice a request for 17 posts, which included 10 Crown counsel, to replace the ones who had been promoted in the last two years. However, although the budget had been approved by the ministry and the permanent secretary in the finance ministry, the positions had, up to that point, not been filled.

She also raised concerns about inadequate courtroom space to try the growing number of cases and received support from Chief Justice Zaila McCalla, who added that the Supreme Court Criminal and Civil Division is suffering from a lack of adequate staff.

According to the chief justice, the staff shortage being experienced by the DDP's office has impacted a number of initiatives, such as the case management court pilot and the operation of two courts in St Catherine to deal with the high number of cases there.

The Ministry of Justice has told us that there are more than 2,000 cases in circuit courts across the island, with 861 serious offences in the home circuit alone. Additionally, there are over 35,000 cases in parish courts awaiting trial, some of them partially heard.

On Wednesday, at the PAAC meeting, Ms Llewellyn, we believe, placed this whole issue in its true context when she stated: “Part of Jamaica's problem is the fact that the justice system has never been as sexy for you legislators as building a highway; therefore, the resources have not been put in place to enhance the capacity of the court.”

She went further, telling the committee that it is unfortunate that over the last 30 years there was not a unified, holistic vision by successive governments in respect of the justice system.

Ms Llewellyn is indeed correct when she suggested that a 20- or 30-year plan should have been formulated long ago to ensure that the justice system can cope with population growth that would naturally lead to increases in matters that must be resolved by the courts.

As the DPP correctly pointed out, the country needs an efficient system to clear the backlog of cases. She and her team have made suggestions over time. The authorities need to give serious focus to those recommendations and get about implementing the ones that can be implemented quickly.

A justice system that cannot function efficiently will only contribute to further erosion of public confidence in the State and to more people taking the law into their own hands.

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