THE Senate on Friday approved an order from Minister of Justice Mark Golding, to increase the limit on the monetary jurisdiction of Resident Magistrate's Courts.
The biggest increases are in terms of the value of property, from $450,000 to $2 million; and for property (real or personal) or secured debt, subject to a claim or other action seeking equitable remedies or proprietary relief, and deceased's estate (real and personal) for probate and administration jurisdiction, which moves from $1.5 million to $3 million.
The current maximum limit on ordinary civil matters will be increased from $250,000 to $1 million.
Other notable increases include claims for maximum annual rental of real property in respect of which landlord can sue tenant for arrears of rent or damages for breach of covenant (section 87 of the Judicature (Resident Magistrates) Act) up from $250,000 to $1 million.
Senator Golding, who piloted the motion approving the order through the Senate, said that the increases were based on a 2007 report from the Justice Reform Taskforce, which observed that the current limits were too low and that, in light of the devaluation of the local currency, an increase was necessary.
Senator Golding also noted that the current limits cause relatively minor cases being brought to the Supreme Court, and require litigants from other parishes to bring minor claims to the Supreme Court in Kingston, which can be onerous, expensive and time-consuming.
Opposition Senator Alexander Williams welcomed the changes, but noted that while access to the courts was essential, access to justice was still being hindered by the cost to the public.
There is a Resident Magistrate's Court in each of the 14 parishes, presided over by a resident magistrate. The court exercises both criminal and civil jurisdiction.
The civil jurisdiction is generally limited to amounts not exceeding J$250,000.00. However, in exercising jurisdiction in claims in equity-values and probate and administration, the sum of $1.5 million should not be exceeded.
The Act empowers the minister to increase the monetary jurisdiction of the court in civil matters. However, any order for such increase is subject to Affirmative Resolution by Parliament.