Sykes calls for tech investments to improve delivery of justice

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Sykes calls for tech investments to improve delivery of justice

BY HORACE HINES
Staff reporter
hinesh@jamaicaobserver.com

Thursday, October 01, 2020

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MONTEGO BAY, St James — Chief Justice Bryan Sykes says the novel coronavirus pandemic has presented Government with the golden opportunity to invest in technology in the court system.

Speaking at the recent Assize Church Service to mark the beginning of the Michaelmas term of the St James Circuit Court held at the St James Parish Church in Montego Bay, under the theme: 'Upholding Justice in Uncertain Times', he called for investment in broadband technology.

“One of the changes that we can make, and it's good to see the Honourable Attorney General [Marlene Malahoo Forte] here, we can speak about the investment in broadband technology at the highest speeds, so that the courts, the police stations and the institutions that interact with the courts can become more efficient, and [can] deliver the services to the court where they are without the physical movement of persons from place to place,” Justice Sykes said.

In driving home his case for more technology in the courts, Chief Justice Sykes made reference to a parish judge who had to use nine books to write evidence, ostensibly in the Manchester Municipal Corporation multimillion-dollar fraud case.

That painstaking exercise, he argued, could have been avoided if the notes were transcribed electronically.

“As I see the parish judges here, they are still writing in notebooks, long hand. In the case that was just finished in Manchester, the judge there wrote nine books of evidence. So think of now the preparation time for that transcript, it might take weeks, it might take even months; and so those are the things now we need to look at in terms of delivering justice,” he said.

The chief justice insisted that there is no technological reason transcriptionists could not have transcribed the audio recording into notes, electronically, “and then making it available to the Court of Appeal”.

He promised the parish judges that there will be a thrust to bring those time-consuming, archaic modus operandi to an end.

“So we are now going to be pushing to have that done. So as I see the parish judges here, they can look forward to the day when you will not have to spend a significant part of your time, head bowed into the notebook, writing, and asking the witness to repeat several times, and getting the exhibit from the lawyer, making notes of it so that you can identify it later on when you are reviewing the notes of evidence,” Sykes said.

He also said that “too many of us are still wedded to practices that came up over the last 200 to 300 years”.

“I am not saying that those practices are necessarily bad because they are that old, but I think for many of them, they have run their course. They have served us well and it is time to move on now to other ways of delivering the services faster and cheaper. So always remember the admonishing, take out the log out of your eyes before you take out the speck out of others,” the chief justice said.

He also argued that even in the current computer age, little has changed with the current time-consuming process of preparing transcripts.

“Our courts, for example in the Supreme Court, in the preparation of transcripts, we are still using a methodology in terms of the workflow that came out of the Gestetner machine and the stencil, where you had to type the stencil to the machine, ink it, and you roll off, literally, each page, one by one, until it was done. And so, at that time, the court reporters would do the transcript, send it down to the copy room where the persons working there would put it on the Gestetner machine, copy it, then move it from there to the Criminal Registry where the persons sitting there punching holes in the transcript, then he would get a string to tie it together and then send it to the Court of Appeal, and then waiting for the lawyers to come and pick it up, those who represented the appellants and the DPPs [director of public prosecutions] office,” he recounted.

“Now the computers have been with us now... the computers and the desktops, for what, two decades? And would you believe that we are still having the same process. The court reporters do the transcript, it goes down into the copy room, happily they are using photocopying machines now and not the Gestetner machines, and they remove it from the photocopying machine now and into the Civil Registry, you have a gentleman there who spends his day punching holes in paper to tie it together to send it across to the Court of Appeal, when all that is necessary now is to collate the transcript on the computers and send it electronically. So these are some of the things I am talking about.

“So that would reduce time, save the trees, save us a lot of paper, and so when we are talking about delivering justice in uncertain times, these are some of the things that we have to begin to look at,” Justice Sykes said.


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