MANDEVILLE, Manchester — Chief Justice Bryan Sykes has said that a new courthouse for this south-central town was "absolutely necessary" as a rented space for its operations was inadequate.
A fire at the old courthouse had forced the relocation of the parish court to the James Warehouse Plaza, close to the centre of Mandeville. However, sensitive issues relating to privacy and safety have arisen since court matters were shifted to the plaza.
Sykes told the Jamaica Observer that the new courthouse was needed to match the pace of Mandeville's growth.
"Mandeville has grown and will continue to grow and even before the fire, the present location of the Family Court, which is where the parish court used to be, was clearly inadequate for a variety of reasons," he said last week.
"The volume of cases, the commercial activity around the court had grown significantly, so there was the need for the [new] court. Now when the fire came, justice still had to be delivered, so when we were relocated to the plaza. That must always be regarded as a temporary short-term measure, but it also presents opportunity," added the chief justice.
Justice Sykes was in Mandeville last Thursday as guest speaker of the ceremony to commission 18 justices of the peace, at Church Teachers' College.
Long considered inadequate for rapidly escalating court requirements and in urgent need of replacement, the more than 200-year-old historic Mandeville Courthouse was damaged by fire on November 7, 2019.
In early 2020, lands were acquired for the construction of the new courthouse on Brumalia Road, off Caledonia Road, a few hundred metres north of the old courthouse.
Soil testing was done at the location, adjacent to the Southern Regional Health Authority's office in August 2020.
Minister of Justice Delroy Chuck in January reiterated his vision of building a new courthouse for Mandeville, even as he hopes plans already made will facilitate its construction, while calling on justices of the peace to assist.
Justice Sykes said, "The time has come for the court to move off the [commercial] building.
"The opportunity presented is to have a courthouse that is in keeping with the image and status of Mandeville itself, and so you don't just want to put up a building, but it must be a building of significance that is commensurate with the historic importance of Manchester in the life of Jamaica," he said.
He suggested that uncomfortable situations could arise from the courthouse being on a commercial property.
"The time has come for the court to move off the building for a number of reasons; the appearance, as it presently stands we are the tenant of a private citizen; it is a commercial entity, not that anything is inherently wrong with being a commercial entity, but let us just suppose, as has happened, one of the tenants has a dispute with the landlord, if it comes into the court is has to be transferred to another parish which in fact has happened, so we had to transfer that case down to Clarendon, because we don't want citizens to feel that if they have a dispute with the landlord of the property that the court is in, let us just suppose the case goes ahead and it is decided in favour of the landlord, what you think the citizen is going to say," Justice Sykes asked.
He said a new courthouse for Mandeville needs "to be established sooner rather than later".
"It is also important to have a court as it also symbolises the presence of the State within the community and the independent arm of the State to adjudicate upon the rights of persons," he said.
"The other thing, too, is that we have to think 50 to 100, 200 years down the road. Courthouses are not expected to be built every 20 or 30 years. They are usually built to last a long time, so it has to be located in an area and built of sufficient size to accommodate the projected growth of population and the potential number of cases," added the chief justice.
He said the new building will need to have adequate space.
"[N]ot just going to be housing a parish court, we are going to be looking at the Circuit Court, you may have to have two Circuit Court sittings, because of the volume of cases in this part of the world, so it is important that the new facility not only be started, but be completed within the shortest possible time, so that the citizens of Manchester can have a courthouse that they deserve and justice being dispensed in an appropriate environment," he said.
"You would have visited where the courthouse now is in a plaza, it is clearly inappropriate, it is undignified really, because our citizens are standing outside in the yard of the plaza. The police officer is coming out and shouting out their names and so on, it really is an undignified arrangement and the sooner it can come to an end the better it is," added the Chief Justice.
"If you have been inside the court especially the courtroom that is the closest to where the prisoners are kept you will know that when there is a lot of movement with prisoners going in and out there and you are inside that courtroom, it disrupts the proceedings significantly, because sometimes you can't hear what the witnesses are saying,"
The chief justice insisted that the present location of the court was not ideal and stressed the importance of incorporating technology in the court system.
"[I]t if we use the technology to manage the court's affairs appropriately, that is to say schedule the appropriate number of cases, schedule the times at which persons come to the court then the anticipated traffic would not be there, because we are moving now into the era of our modern courts managing their affairs. So we are moving from the days of 20, 30, 40, 50 people coming and just standing outside waiting for their name to be called. In a more dignified and respectful environment – you get an appointment and a date in the same way that you have a date and appointment with your doctor or any other professional. The question is why shouldn't the courts get there?" he asked.
"This is an opportunity for us to get there and to demonstrate that we are respectful of persons. We are respectful of their time and we want to house them in an appropriate environment," added Justice Sykes.
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