Sixteen former judges of the island's appeal court are voicing approval of recent investments to improve the entity after decades of advocacy which "fell on deaf ears".
Former president of the Court of Appeal Justice Seymour Panton, bringing greetings on behalf of the 16 who are still alive, during a special guest lecture and dinner to mark the 60th anniversary of the court on Wednesday evening, said the circumstances under which they had served "were very challenging, extremely challenging, physically and otherwise".
"We complained about money, and we are very happy to see that finally, finally, money is being spent on the Court of Appeal. For years you will know that long before I reached the court I was pleading for the expansion of the court and for the provision of the tools so that the judges could work effectively. My pleading fell on deaf ears for 30 years," Justice Panton said.
"I give thanks to the people who piloted the legislation in 2008 to increase the number of judges and also to those who have seen to the fleshing out of the legislation so that you now have 13 judges," he said.
In May 2018, Justice Minister Delroy Chuck had announced that the Government would be spending $846 million on the expansion of the Court of Appeal. By December that expansion was completed, resulting in three new courtrooms, 15 judges' chambers and an expanded registry.
Justice Panton, in the meantime, paid homage to the court, noting that since it was properly constituted in 1962 its judges have served diligently and with integrity.
"They have dealt fairly and justly with matters involving all races, classes, creeds and segments of the society, the most powerful as well as the weakest," he said adding, "politicians, for example, who have appealed their cases to the Privy Council have received from the Privy Council the very same answers that we here in Jamaica at the Court of Appeal have given them. If you find a case with which that has not occurred, tell me".
He, in the meantime, scolded policymakers for outsourcing the country's judicial business to its former colonisers.
"I would not be happy if I did not mention that we still are attached to the coattails of the Privy Council. The national psyche is being affected by this stubborn attachment to the Privy Council. Our policymakers must realise that in due course their legacy is going to be stained and tainted by their insistence on clinging to the coattails of the Privy Council," Justice Panton said stoutly.
"As far as we are concerned, the Privy Council is an anachronism right now and they should start thinking as to what they are going to tell their grandchildren in relation to this fond attachment," he said, noting that Jamaica should follow the lead of countries like Namibia.
"Namibia has a lesson for us. Its population is 2.6 million, it became independent only 32 years ago and guess what? they have not outsourced their judicial business to their former colonial masters," he said.
There is a lesson also to be learnt from Australia, Canada, and New Zealand; those three countries were attached to the Privy Council, they have parted [but] their citizens, although they have no attachment to the Privy Council, can just walk into the United Kingdom any time," Justice Panton pointed out.
Sarcastically he noted that while Jamaica has the Privy Council as its final court Jamaicans still "need to pay expensively and line up to receive or be denied a visa to go to the United Kingdom".
"Our parliamentarians, all of them, need to process these matters in their mindâ€¦[I] have been saying it for years. Parliamentarians need to wake up and think on these things. In the meantime, I urge the judges of appeal to continue to perform their duties with dignity and integrity, giving justice as is due," he said.
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