'National disgrace'
Chief justice outraged by treatment of people with outstanding traffic tickets
Constable Keron Kellyman Public Safety and Traffic Enforcement Division assits Necelle Miller at the Traffic Court to pay outstandinng tickets in this February 3, 2023 file photo, while other motorists await their turn.

MOUNTAIN SPRING BAY, Trelawny — Chief Justice Bryan Sykes has taken issue with the treatment of Jamaicans who tried to clear outstanding traffic tickets before the new Road Traffic Act took effect in February.

He used the issue as a springboard to call, yet again, for greater digitalisation of the court system.

In January, there were long lines outside some courthouses including the Traffic Court in Kingston, as people waited in the sun to pay their fines. Speaking on Tuesday, Sykes said such treatment was an unconscionable embarrassment to the country.

"You saw the videos on television in January. The hundreds of people lining up outside — I think it is a national disgrace. I don't know what you think but that is my position," he stated.

"We should not be treating our citizens like that, even if they are amongst those who did not take advantage of the many years they had to clear their tickets," he added.

Justice Sykes was addressing the first of a two-day Jamaica Police Federation 80th Annual Joint Central Conference being held at the Ocean Coral Spring Resort in Trelawny.

In his remarks, Sykes pointed to reliance on a paper-based system as one of the reasons for the inefficiencies seen. He argued that a court system operating in the 21st century should be able to provide a better quality of service and stressed the need for the courts to catch up with the digitalisation seen in other sections of the system. Without that step, he cautioned, bottlenecks will remain.

"All the work that you have put into this new traffic ticketing system comes to nought because the machines that you now have, the police can now issue more tickets in a space of time than previously. If you are doing that and the courts do not become digital, what that is going to mean is that the same disorder will be replicated," Sykes warned.

Those being ticketed, he said, will soon take advantage of the backlog in processing of tickets. The chief justice anticipates that they will simply say, "All right officer, give me the tickets then because I know that I won't see a judge until perhaps two years' time or so."

"All of that has to change and that is why we as a court must digitise," added Sykes.

Asked to weigh in on the issue, Minister of National Security Dr Horace Chang agreed with the chief justice's assessment of the way in which people attempting to pay traffic fines were treated.

"It is inappropriate to have the law-abiding citizens have to go places for Government services and have to stand up in long lines, in crowd and sun and go to six or five different offices for one permit. It is just inappropriate and the Government is moving to correct that problem," he told the Jamaica Observer.

In terms of the chief justice's call for a digitised court system, the national security minister said the issue is being addressed.

"We have come a long way. It took us a long time but we went through the process and overcame all the challenges. We removed the pain points and have a fully digital system for traffic ticketing systems now which can be used for public order if the court gets online as well. We are working to get the court online," said Dr Chang.

BY ANTHONY LEWIS Observer writer

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