CCJ: The wilful blindness of Justice Seymour Panton
If we are looking for someone to lecture us about the state of the Jamaican justice system it would not be Justice Seymour Panton, the current chairman of the Integrity Commission and former president of the Court of Appeal — formidable as it sounds.
To be charitable, we can only describe as wilful blindness Mr Justice Panton’s January 15, 2023 excoriation of our editorial of three days earlier, in which we contended that “Jamaica’s limping justice system is obviously not ready to leave the (United Kingdom) Privy Council.”
For someone who has spent the better part of his legal career in the justice system, Mr Panton surely cannot be as unaware of the myriad flaws besieging the administration and application of justice, resulting in our people not having much faith in it.
That is at the heart of the reason Jamaicans are not head over heels in love with the idea of moving on from the UK Privy Council, and not because of a lack of pride, as Mr Panton suggests in his article in this newspaper.
He tells us: “Every single day decisions of all types are handed down in these courts without fear or favour. These decisions relate to matters between citizen and citizen, as well as between citizens and the State.
“The courts are open to all except for trials of offences involving sex and the illegal use of guns, as well as in some family matters. In my view, there is no evidence of limping in the courts.”
But Justice Panton need not take our word for it. No one is more qualified to enhance our appreciation of the state of our justice system than the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Ms Paula Llewellyn, whose lifetime of work trying to improve the justice system stands out like a beacon.
As far back as June 29, 2014 this newspaper reported Ms Llewellyn thus: “Director of Public Prosecutions Paula Llewellyn has harshly criticised policymakers on both sides of the political fence for the limping state of the justice system, citing the need for a wake-up call.”
Three years later, on October 18, 2017, The Gleaner wrote: “The nation’s chief prosecutor, Paula Llewellyn, yesterday confronted lawmakers with a grim description of how justice is being dispensed in some criminal courts, particularly in rural areas, and told them bluntly that it was the result of a lack of vision by successive political administrations.”
In support of the DPP, her deputy Mr Jeremy Taylor added: “You have not lived until you enter the St Ann courthouse to see police fingerprinting persons right in front of a courtroom door, and a holding area which is under a staircase, where I share the same bathroom with a person in custody.”
Mr Panton errs badly in saying that we in this space opposed the idea of a Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ). We have simply acknowledged that until we have a justice system in which our people can have faith and not feel that they have to take justice in their own hands, we are not ready to dispense with a credible institution such as the Privy Council.
Moreover, we are aware that as we seek to attract major investors to move our country forward we will not succeed in getting those that matter if they do not feel confident that, should it be warranted, they can get justice in a dispute with local entities, private or public.
Even Mr Panton can concede that this is simply common sense.