Justice Sykes is right on target

Monday, February 26, 2018

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The anguished cry from Mrs Leonie Morris published in this newspaper last October still resonates with us.

“There is no justice for poor people in Jamaica,” Mrs Morris lamented.

Briefly, eight years after a car accident seriously damaged her lower back, Mrs Morris was still awaiting court-ordered compensation which would have allowed her to do corrective surgery.

Up to that time an appeal against a Supreme Court ruling in her favour, dating back to mid-2012, was yet to be heard by the Court of Appeal.

The reason: The notes of evidence detailing what transpired in the Supreme Court hearing were yet to be prepared, signed off, and sent to the Court of Appeal.

Last we heard, Mrs Morris remained in limbo.

The long delay in Mrs Morris's litigation was by no means unusual, but simply underlined the inefficiencies in Jamaica's court system, both in civil and criminal matters, partly due to inadequate resources.

Personnel and material inadequacies apart, administrative incompetence and outdated methodologies are a huge problem in Jamaica's court system.

We need only listen to Justice Minister Mr Delroy Chuck to understand that there are many factors at play here.

This acknowledgement makes the pronouncements by Acting Chief Justice Mr Bryan Sykes, in a comprehensive address at a justice forum on Jamaica's north coast on the weekend, of particular significance.

Said to be his first public address since being controversially asked to act as chief justice, rather than being permanently handed the role, Justice Sykes essentially said that, under his watch, administration of the courts will not be business as usual.

For those with an interest in Jamaica's legal and justice system, the story headlined 'Sykes calls for 'whole new way of doing things' in justice system', written by Jamaica Observer Staff Reporter Miss Renae Dixon, should be required reading.

We note Justice Sykes's emphasis on improved administration with the assertion that, “While it has not emerged in Jamaica, it is recognised elsewhere that court management and court managers are a vital part of any modern justice system.”

We applaud his spoken commitment to planning, time management and accountability.

Justice Sykes seems to be suggesting that under his watch, and in line with his responsibility as head of the judiciary, the individual efficiency of court administrators, including judges, will be closely monitored and measured and there will be performance-based consequences.

Anyone — not just Mrs Morris — who has ever had to spend time dealing with matters in courts knows first-hand about time wasting.

Justice Sykes makes it very clear that correcting this weakness will be a priority for him. Says he: “Time is one of the most precious resources that we have, and so the judge now has to be an effective manager of time... We can't continue to do things in the way we have been doing.”

As is the case elsewhere, this newspaper is at a loss as to why Prime Minister Andrew Holness has courted so much controversy by choosing to ask Justice Sykes to act. The consensus among those who should know is that Justice Sykes is the right man at the right time. And if his words are anything to go by it would seem that the supportive body of opinion is dead on target.

Over to you, Mr Prime Minister, there is no time to lose.

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