Justice on hold
Lawyers postpone cases until safety protocols put in place at St James Parish CourtThursday, March 04, 2021
BY ROCHELLE CLAYTON
MONTEGO BAY, St James – Attorneys in this parish have vowed to postpone their cases that are before the court until effective COVID-19 preventative measures are put in place. They have also called for court cases to be conducted via Zoom as is being done in other sections of the justice system.
Speaking with the Jamaica Observer on behalf of his peers, attorney-at-law Charles Sinclair hit out at what he describes as “unacceptable working conditions” at the court. He is also the Jamaica Labour Party's councillor for the Montego Bay North Eastern Division.
“We want to ensure that everybody is operating in a safe environment, so we are pushing for a sit down with the relevant authorities. Until this is done, we are not working in that environment. We have decided that we are going to be postponing the various cases that we have until we get some measure of response from those who can respond, to put in effective protocols for the protection of everybody concerned,” he told Observer West.
Their concerns, he explained, ranged from the crowds lawyers have to wade through to enter the courthouse, to a failure to sanitise publicly used areas.
“Just trying to get inside the court is a task... There is [an overcrowding] taking place at the entrance of the court, with no management on the outside, and we do not know where these persons have been. Some persons are not wearing masks and we are being required to walk through the [little space left among those people] to get into our workspace,” he stressed.
While he conceded that he has seen some safety protocols, such as temperature checks at the entrances to courtrooms, being observed inside, he said more needs to be done.
“When the benches on the inside are cleared, those benches are not sanitised, and you do not know where a particular attorney may be coming from. You have people who are asymptomatic, so we have those concerns even amongst our colleagues,” he noted.
“We operate in an area that is air conditioned and it has been said by various medical personnel that operating in a closed room makes circulation of the virus much easier,” he added.
The gaps in the safety protocols, he maintains, also put at risk police officers working in the building.
“There are two police officers that work at the entrance of the courthouse every day. Everybody that comes through the court door, they are the first to have interactions with them and my heart goes out to them, they are not being rotated; they are always there,” Sinclair said.
In addition to minimising the number of persons physically in the building by having parish court matters done via Zoom, as is done for the gun and circuit courts, the lawyers are also suggesting that persons who intend to plead guilty to traffic offences to simply pay their fine.
“What we would also strongly recommend to the public, especially on road traffic day, is that persons who get tickets and know they are coming to enter a plea of guilt, be responsible enough to just go and pay your ticket, whether at the tax office or you pay it online or you go to the Paymasters that can receive the payment and not come and increase the numbers at the court,” he pleaded.
Sinclair added that he had previously raised these concerns with the relevant health authorities, but to no avail.
“There has been no action on the part of the local board of health in engaging the court management service or the court administration in dealing with some of these issues... at the courthouse,” he said.
They are prepared, he added, to discuss their concerns. But until then, they have put their cases on hold.
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