Chang mulls Sykes’ call for mobile courts built from containers
Minister of National Security and Deputy Prime Minister, Dr. Horace Chang, speaks in the House of Representatives. At left is State Minister in the Ministry, Zavia Mayne.

TRELAWNY, Jamaica – National Security Minister Dr Horace Chang has agreed to explore the possibility of utilising, in rural areas, mobile courtrooms constructed from containers in a bid to improve the efficiency of the justice system.

The proposal is for containers, equipped with cameras and Internet connection, to be placed at police stations so that individuals in custody will not have to be transported to court just for a hearing date.

The minister, who acknowledged that there may be some eyebrows raised about the use of containers, noted that “there have been a lot of redesigns and work done on them”.

“It is something that can be examined, but I cannot make a final comment on it,” Chang said of the suggestion of the mobile facility.

Dr Chang was speaking with the media on Tuesday following a call made by Chief Justice Bryan Sykes during his address at the Jamaica Police Federation 80th Annual Joint Central Conference. The security minister indicated that the final decision rests with the courts and the Ministry of Justice.

Day one of the two-day event was held at the Ocean Coral Spring resort in Trelawny on Tuesday.

The conference, which saw over 600 delegates in attendance, was held under the theme 'Focused Together; One Path, One Goal through Excellence and Commitment'.

In delivering the main address, Justice Sykes zeroed in on the issue of inefficiencies in the system and his suggestion for container courts was one of the solutions offered. Sykes wants resource-wasting case mention dates [where the matter is merely mentioned and there is no plea of guilt or innocence] kept within the international standard of no more than three.

The snail’s pace of justice has long been criticised, with cases dragging on for years. On Tuesday, Sykes spoke of the impact this has on individuals accused of crimes, especially within the context of an absence of remand facilities outside of Kingston and St Andrew and St Catherine, resulting in those accused of crimes being kept in lock-ups.

“So what this means is that when you have multiple mentions in the western Circuits, in the western parishes, you have to be transporting prisoners two or three times a week… The escort vehicle, that’s about four or six police officers driving to and fro, and when the officers come down, they oftentimes spend no more than five minutes in court,” said the chief justice.

A recent trip to Guyana, he said, had opened his eyes to the possibility of using containers to solve the problem. In that country, he said, container courtrooms are used at major police stations and remand facilities.

Earlier this year, eyebrows were raised when a company went to market with houses made from containers. While popular in other countries, this was a first for Jamaica.

In supporting his argument that the court system could also benefit from their use, Sykes suggested that implementing his suggestion would not be a huge strain on the country’s finances.

“The time has come now for us, as a system, and for the JCF to really think seriously about how we utilise public funds. Converting the container isn’t very expensive. You just need an electricity supply, air-conditioning units, cameras plus a screen and a microphone, and you are ready to go. That is where I think we need to move to so that you do not have this waste of time and wasted resources,” he urged.

BY ANTHONY LEWIS , Observer writer

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