IN FO­CUS

Jamaica Gleaner - - IN FOCUS - Peter Cham­pag­nie Guest Colum­nist

YOUR ED­I­TO­RIAL of Sun­day, Sep­tem­ber 25, 2016 ti­tled, ‘Time for real jus­tice re­form’ is, to a large ex­tent, typ­i­cal of those crit­ics who pon­tif­i­cate in bliss­ful ig­no­rance about what the real prob­lems are with our jus­tice sys­tem. Pre­cious lit­tle time is ever given to de­ter­mine what al­ready ex­ists and what are the real short­com­ings of our jus­tice sys­tem. Such crit­ics are obliv­i­ous to the facts and ex­press their opin­ions with­out the truth be­ing al­lowed to get in the way of their good sto­ries. A typ­i­cal ex­am­ple of this is your ref­er­ence to Italy, in which you have iden­ti­fied laws ex­ist­ing in that ju­ris­dic­tion that al­low for the seizure of as­sets from both crim­i­nals and the fa­cil­i­ta­tors of crime. You con­cluded that the Ital­ian model rep­re­sents one ex­am­ple where well-tar­geted le­gal re­form can trans­form the jus­tice sys­tem. The fact, how­ever, is that the Ital­ian model al­ready ex­ists in Ja­maica. Al­most a decade ago, our Par­lia­ment en­acted the Pro­ceeds of Crime Act. By virtue of Sec­tion 32 of this act, pros­e­cut­ing au­thor­i­ties are en­abled to make ap­pli­ca­tions to the court for seizure of as­sets be­lieved to have been ob­tained by per­sons en­joy­ing a crim­i­nal life­style. In­deed, fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tions, real-es­tate bod­ies, car deal­ers, ac­coun­tants, and lawyers are all re­quired un­der this act to re­port to the au­thor­i­ties any sus­pi­cious trans­ac­tions in­volv­ing large amounts of cash with their cus­tomers or clients. Fail­ure to do oth­er­wise can re­sult in crim­i­nal charges be­ing brought. The sug­ges­tion was also made in your ed­i­to­rial that we should also fol­low the United States of Amer­ica in im­pos­ing de­nial of tainted as­sets dur­ing trial so that crim­i­nals can­not pay their le­gal fees with the pro­ceeds of crime. Alas, this al­ready ex­ists in Ja­maica by virtue of Sec­tion 33 (4) (a) of our Pro­ceeds of Crime Act. The Ja­maican jus­tice sys­tem is not short of laws. How­ever, what we are short of is an hon­est recog­ni­tion of what the real prob­lems are within our jus­tice sys­tem.

LIMP­ING ALONG

The re­al­ity is that suc­ces­sive gov­ern­ments have never placed any pre­mium on the mod­erni­sa­tion or ex­pan­sion of the crit­i­cal ar­eas within our jus­tice sys­tem. We are still, for ex­am­ple, limp­ing along with vir­tu­ally the same num­ber of court­rooms and judges. We are work­ing with a jus­tice sys­tem that was de­signed to meet a caseload that ob­tained in 1962. The in­creas­ing ten­dency to blame our judges for the back­log of cases by those who, in some in­stances, have never par­tic­i­pated in the trial process be­fore any court for decades, or who

have never left the con­fines of their lofty of­fices to ex­am­ine what the real is­sues are must stop. The pub­lic, for ex­am­ple, must be made aware of the fol­low­ing set of cir­cum­stances that now ob­tain within our jus­tice sys­tem:

1. Whereas all courts (save and ex­cept for the Court of Ap­peal) across our is­land are gazetted to com­mence at 10 a.m. promptly, there ex­ists only one po­lice ve­hi­cle for the Cor­po­rate Area to trans­port those ac­cused per­sons who are in cus­tody to the courts. The po­lice are ex­pected to use this ve­hi­cle to col­lect th­ese ac­cused per­sons on any given day from no fewer than five lo­ca­tions. Th­ese lo­ca­tions in­clude Met­calfe Street, the Hori­zon Adult Re­mand Cor­rec­tional Cen­tre, the Kingston Cen­tral Po­lice Sta­tion, the Half-Way Tree Po­lice Sta­tion, and the Tower Street Adult Cor­rec­tional Cen­tre.

With the use of this sin­gle ve­hi­cle cov­er­ing all of th­ese ar­eas, the ex­pec­ta­tion is that all prison­ers will ar­rive for the com­mence­ment of court at 10 a.m. for their mat­ters to be heard. Is there any won­der why, there­fore, on any given date, the courts in the Cor­po­rate Area do not start on time?

In some in­stances, cases in­volv­ing th­ese ac­cused per­sons are ad­journed, leav­ing wit­nesses, lawyers, and judges frus­trated be­cause such ac­cused per­sons are not brought to court at all as a re­sult of the oc­ca­sional break­down of this sin­gle po­lice ve­hi­cle.

2. For al­most a year, ar­guably the most im­por­tant court in the Cor­po­rate area has been with­out a per­ma­nent parish judge. In this re­gard, ref­er­ence can be made to the court at Half-Way Tree, which is as­signed to deal with the re­cep­tion, dis­posal, or com­mit­tal of all mur­der cases in­volv­ing the use of firearms from the parishes of Kingston, St An­drew, and St Cather­ine.

POORLY VEN­TI­LATED

In­vari­ably, judges as­signed to their spe­cific courts with their trial lists have had to aid this court. It is un­fair to th­ese judges as they are ex­pected to pre­side over their own courts, but also on the same day, ex­pected to pre­side in this par­tic­u­lar court, which, in­ci­den­tally, is no dif­fer­ent from a sauna be­cause of poor ven­ti­la­tion and no op­er­a­ble air-con­di­tion­ing unit. The con­di­tions of this par­tic­u­lar court are eas­ily repli­cated in many other court­rooms across the is­land.

Th­ese cir­cum­stances cer­tainly do not en­gen­der a com­fort­able stay for those who are re­quired to be in at­ten­dance in court, and, if any­thing, add to the in­creas­ing list as to why wit­nesses and po­ten­tial jurors are re­luc­tant to be in­volved with the jus­tice sys­tem when called upon to so do.

3. In other ju­ris­dic­tions within the Caribbean and else­where, judges are as­signed spe­cific pe­ri­ods to be in their cham­bers for the pur­pose of writ­ing out­stand­ing

judg­ments. This prac­tice op­er­ates smoothly where the num­ber of judges is ad­e­quate and the re­sources are avail­able to fa­cil­i­tate prepa­ra­tion of writ­ten judge­ments. In our ju­ris­dic­tion, how­ever, no such thing ob­tains. The lim­ited num­ber of avail­able judges are ex­pected to be in court ev­ery day. Where is the jus­tice for the judges in this?

4. Leg­is­la­tion is passed in our Par­lia­ment with per­haps the largest con­tin­gent of lawyers therein with­out proper analysis as to their suit­abil­ity for our ju­ris­dic­tion. The lat­est ex­am­ple of this has been the Com­mit­tal Pro­ceed­ings Act, which came into ef­fect in Jan­uary 2016. The ex­pec­ta­tion was that this act would abol­ish pre­lim­i­nary en­quiries, and, by its oper­a­tion, cause speedy dis­missal or com­mit­tal of mat­ters of crim­i­nal cases to the Cir­cuit Court. This is not re­ally prov­ing to be the case.

Cer­tainly, in re­spect of the Cor­po­rate Area, no more than six (if so many) have been com­mit­ted to Cir­cuit Court un­der this new leg­is­la­tion as op­posed to many in the last court term. In­deed, it is in­ter­est­ing to note that on May 28, 2013, com­mit­tal pro­ce­dures in Eng­land were abol­ished. What ob­tains now is that se­ri­ous mat­ters are sent straight to the Crown Court from the Parish Court for a pre­trial hear­ing. The mat­ters are then sub­se­quently placed on the trial list.

SEN­SI­BLE MOVE

Sol­diers on pa­trol in Par­adise Row, Mon­tego Bay, last week.

OC­TO­BER 2, 2016

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