Sykes calls for 'whole new way of doing things' in justice system

BY RENAE DIXON
Staff reporter
dixonr@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, February 25, 2018

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RUNAWAY BAY, St Ann — Jamaica's Acting Chief Justice Bryan Sykes, has said that a reform of all courts is needed if there is to be timely delivery of a high standard of justice for all.

Justice Sykes, who was speaking at a case flow management workshop for court staff from across Jamaica at Jewel Paradise Cove Beach Resort and Spa yesterday, said there has to be “a whole new way of doing things”.

The two-day workshop, which ends today, is facilitated by the International Narcotics and Law Enforcement section of the United States Embassy, Justice Undertakings for Social Transformation, and the Ministry of Justice in collaboration with the Judicial Education Institute of Jamaica.

Justice Sykes, who encouraged court staff to read reports such as the chief justice's annual statistics report for 2017 for the Supreme Court, and the report for the parish courts of Jamaica for 2017 to ensure they have reliable and accurate information to assist them in the reformation process, emphasised that all employees of the court are crucial to its efficiency.

Additionally, he took the time to urge court administrators to take their roles very seriously.

It was the first major utterance from Sykes since he was recommended by Prime Minister Andrew Holness and appointed by Governor General Sir Patrick Allen to act in the post at the start of February — the first time in Jamaica's history that a chief justice was being asked to act in a situation where a clear vacancy existed. The move on the part of Holness has drawn criticism from a wide cross section of the society. Although Holness has indicated that he intends to recommend that Sykes be appointed permanently, to date he has yet to do so.

Stating that court administrators are extremely important in that transformation of the justice system, Justice Sykes said 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.

“As managers, you are now going to be expected to have a range of competences and also knowledge,” he said.

He said that court administrators, for example, must be aware of the procurement processes of the Government in order to ensure that the courts get the necessary resources on time.

“You have to be aware of the implications of the central treasury management system that the Government now operates,” he said, explaining that administrators have to be aware of budget cycles and how payments are made in order to ensure the courts always have the necessary resources to operate effectively.

“When you have needs that you identify, you have to know how you are going to get it done in order for the process to go through in time,” Justice Sykes warned, reiterating that the administrators need to know how to prepare budgets and to submit them on time so the court can get what it needs in a timely manner.

Justice Sykes stressed that the days of requesting items anytime during the financial year are over.

“It is now forward planning, forward thinking, so you have to be looking at the needs of your court for the year and looking at projections. You have to be aware of statistical reports,” Skyes said.

“The collection of data, the analysing of data is going to be crucial skills that you need to have in order to do that,” he added.

Sykes said that administrators will need to sit down with the parish judges to plan the year's work ahead of time, looking at the number of each type of case and identifying those which can be dealt with quickly and ensuring that they are dealt with quickly.

“We can't treat all cases the same way. In other words, we getting in the business now of not just case flow management but case management itself ... you are now going to be a crucial part of the planning of the work of the courts, so we have to be looking now at training to help you to meet those standards,” Justice Sykes said.

Justice Sykes said that with planning and data collection in the courts, there will be implications for judges.

“It also has implications for the judges as well, not to say that I am going to be doing this but I need to let you know nonetheless ... the data that is being collected, the software can track objectively the performance of individual judges in Jamaica. It can track when a judge starts a case, it can track how many sittings the judge has had with that case, it can track how much time has been spent.”

He explained that the individual efficiency of judges can now be tracked, looking at how long it takes from end of submissions to delivery of judgements. This, he explained, will have implications on the management of human resources by court administrators.

“It has implications on how judges are assigned, which judges are assigned, where and to what type of cases,” he added.

Justice Sykes further stated that the judge is not just a person who has knowledge of the law and evidence, but is also a manager of resources.

“Time is one of the most precious resources that we have and so the judge now has to be an effective manager of time... as we go along, the days of long-winded advocacy are over. Talking for the sake of talking or because you have the ability to speak, they are over; lengthy, unnecessary cross-examinations are over. All of these things take up valuable time. Cross-examining witnesses for two days with no apparent end in sight and no aim in mind (is) over. We can't continue to do things in the way we have been doing,” he stated.

He reminded that the rules regarding case management are there to help in the achievement of all these objectives.

Justice Sykes said that other things such as court reporting will also have to be changed for a more effective justice system. He said the multiple reporters per case will have to stop because it has produced significant inefficiency in the production of transcripts and, as a result, court proceedings have been delayed.

“All of these work practices and habits are now up for examination and what is useless, doesn't add value, (are) increasing cost will be discarded,” he said.

Justice Sykes said that there is often outcry about the lack of resources. However, he raised the question about whether it is a lack of resources or if resources are not being used effectively.

“Oftentimes the cry coming from the court is we need more resources, but what kind of resources do we need? Is it human resources, material, is it computer? Is it utilising what we have more effectively?” Sykes asked.

“We have to begin to think now in terms of about moving cases around the parishes or within the same parish. It may be that you have to use the outstations more efficiently. Can we have a physical plant really that is being used once per month or once per week? Is that an efficient use of resources, particularly in the context of a developing country? Oftentimes when we hear of backlog we tend to think of more bodies, but sometimes it may be that what we need to do is to utilise the existing resources that we have in a more efficient manner,” he added.

He said that the justice system also creates an impact on the success of the economy.

“This is not just an isolated concern for those of us in the justice system, because one of the drivers of economic growth is an efficient legal system.”

Justice Sykes pointed out that countries that develop economically usually have an efficient legal system. He used England and Singapore as examples of countries which have achieved economic growth as a result of the impact of their justice systems.

“When you are operating in the parish courts, you have a vital role in the development of your particular parishes. Let us take probate and administration of estate for example. Persons may be waiting to borrow money to invest in a significant project but because we are inefficient in how we deal with estates, deal with wills, it means the investment is delayed or not done at all, and what that means is reduced income, reduced employment for all persons in the parish.”

Justice Leighton Pusey, who was the moderator of the first day of the workshop, called for professionalism among all court workers. He said that everyone who works in the court must consider themselves as professionals.

He called on administrators to instill that level of professionalism among staff.

“That is the kind of change that we are looking forward to,” Justice Pusey said.

The workshop is focusing on efficient business processes in parish courts, automation of case information, roles and responsibilities of data personnel, case progression officers, backlog reduction, the unified prosecution service and records management.

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