More judges, rooms for Court of Appeal

BY TANESHA MUNDLE
Observer staff reporter
mundlet@jamaicaobserver.com

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

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BY year-end, the Jamaican Constitution is to be amended to allow retired judges to offer their services, especially in the Court of Appeal, which has been flooded with cases but has not seen an increase in its complement of judges from seven since Independence.

Justice Minister Delroy Chuck, while highlighting the strain on Court of Appeal judges whose case loads have increased significantly over the years, and the current backlog within the court, announced yesterday that proposed changes to the constitution will be tabled in Parliament by early May.

“The constitution has to be changed to allow these judges to continue beyond age 70 on an as-needed basis, and now everything is in place,” he said, noting that the process will take at least eight months before the law comes into effect.

Chuck, who was speaking at the contract signing for the expansion of the Court of Appeal, which will see the addition of three new courtrooms, 12 judges' chambers and two lounges by August, also said he is hoping that six additional judges will be appointed in this fiscal year.

“The Court of Appeal is the highest court and we need for the court to be able to deliver and complete cases in an expeditious manner, but for the last couple decades the backlog of cases in the Court of Appeal has been increasing due to a lack of manpower,” Chuck said.

“Seven judges just cannot manage the bulk of cases,” he added, pointing out that there was a backlog of just over 1,400 cases with the transcripts not yet available for 800.

However, he told Court Appeal President Dennis Morrison that he will be able to appoint the first three judges shortly, given that the three new courtrooms will be available within the next four months.

The contract, valued at $846 million, was signed by the minister and director of Y P Seaton and Associates Calvert Mundle at the justice ministry's office on Constant Spring Road in St Andrew yesterday.

The eight-month-long renovation, which will be undertaken at the old office of the accountant general in downtown Kingston, will not only include three courtrooms but also a registry, stairways and elevators.

According to the minister, who was elated with the new development, since only seven judges have been hearing appeals even though the number of judges in the parish courts and the Supreme Court has increased, no Court of Appeal judges were appointed because there was no available space to house them.

“The process started eight years ago. I visited the Court of Appeal in 2011 when I started my first stint as a minister and I was appalled at the condition that the judges were working in. When I came back in 2016, I visited again and nothing had changed. In fact, if I may say, things have got worse.

“So finally, after all this time, we can say the contract has been signed and things will now move extremely fast, because after the signing this afternoon, work will begin this week, and I have told the contractor that I am a man in a great hurry, and this contract will be [completed] within four months, even if it means working 25 hours a day; you will have to find the additional hour,” he said.

Chuck also reported that the ministry will be moving to install audio-visual equipment in courtrooms, eliminating the need for court reporters as the transcripts will be generated automatically and the reporters will be able to focus on bringing the outstanding transcripts up to date.

In the meantime, Morrison expressed pleasure that steps are finally being taken to erect the additional courtrooms at the Court of Appeal.

“This is a long-awaited development. I have been a member of the Court of Appeal for 10 years now and when I joined the court I was told that this was going to happen shortly, so it is happening today and I am happy to be here,” he said.

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