De­bat­ing and fi­nanc­ing jus­tice

Jamaica Gleaner - - OPINION & COMMENTARY -

DEL­ROY CHUCK wouldn’t, we ex­pect, be num­bered among the know-noth­ings who lawyer Peter Cham­pag­nie ac­cuses of hi­jack­ing the on­go­ing de­bate about how to im­prove Ja­maica’s jus­tice sys­tem. Nei­ther, we be­lieve, are Michael Lee-Chin and the mem­bers of his Eco­nomic Growth Coun­cil (EGC) cast among those with “ab­so­lutely no ex­pe­ri­ence in the sub­ject” upon which they pon­tif­i­cate.

In the event, the EGC has joined the dis­course, in­sist­ing that the “slow pace of the ad­min­is­tra­tion of jus­tice” is an ob­sta­cle to ci­ti­zen safety and se­cu­rity and, there­fore, an en­cum­brance to eco­nomic growth and devel­op­ment. It is an as­sump­tion that not only makes sense, but is a mat­ter in which all Ja­maicans have a stake.

There are two im­por­tant fac­tors here. First, the res­o­lu­tion of le­gal dis­putes and the clar­i­fi­ca­tion of laws and/or reg­u­la­tions by a cred­i­ble and ef­fi­cient ju­di­cial sys­tem are crit­i­cal to the con­duct of busi­ness and com­merce. Long de­lays waste time, cost money and de­ter in­vest­ment.

Sec­ond, there are cred­i­ble data in­di­cat­ing that Ja­maica’s high crime rate is a dis­in­cen­tive to eco­nomic ac­tiv­ity, snip­ping more than five per cent an­nu­ally from the value of eco­nomic out­put. Fix­ing crime is mul­ti­di­men­sional. But it is not helped by a court sys­tem with a back­log of more than 400,000 cases, more than half of which are crim­i­nal mat­ters.

As the EGC said in the broad out­line of its strate­gies to ad­dress these prob­lems, whose cure, it ar­gues, would be a fil­lip to growth: “Jus­tice only de­ter­mines crime if the pun­ish­ment is swift, cer­tain and se­vere, but the dys­func­tional court sys­tem to­day means that pun­ish­ment is nei­ther swift nor se­vere.”

The EGC has rec­om­mended a range of ad­min­is­tra­tive and leg­isla­tive changes that Mr Lee-Chin’s group be­lieves would en­hance ef­fi­ciency and trans­parency in the court. But some, such as the digi­ti­sa­tion of court records, will de­mand sub­stan­tial in­vest­ment. So, too, will the prom­ise by Mr Chuck, the jus­tice min­is­ter, to in­crease the num­ber of judges in the parish, Supreme and ap­peal courts, while pro­vid­ing them with sup­port staff and in­fras­truc­ture. Such im­prove­ments, if they hap­pen, would make it eas­ier to hold judges ac­count­able.

PIECE­MEAL AP­PROACH

What, how­ever, is not yet clear is the cost of these ju­di­cial up­grades and how they are to be paid for. In the past, lack of fund­ing has con­trib­uted to a slow, piece­meal ap­proach to, and the fail­ure of, ju­di­cial re­form. Do­ing right this time will re­quire a sub­stan­tial re­al­lo­ca­tion of cap­i­tal from other sec­tors of the law-en­force­ment and jus­tice sys­tems. Given the real prob­lems else­where and the com­pet­ing de­mands for lim­ited re­sources, the Gov­ern­ment will need to build con­sen­sus on the pri­or­ity of these re­al­lo­ca­tions.

More­over, the fund­ing of law-en­force­ment and jus­tice sys­tems has to be sus­tain­able, and not sub­ject to the short-term va­garies of the Bud­get process. In this re­gard, we be­lieve that the model em­ployed by re­gional gov­ern­ments for the Caribbean Court of Jus­tice (CCJ) is one that Ja­maica should con­sider for its ju­di­cial sys­tem, or parts thereof, per­haps for the on­go­ing up­grad­ing of tech­nol­ogy and other ser­vices.

The CCJ was launched with a US$100-mil­lion trust fund, the re­turns from which are in­tended to fi­nance the op­er­a­tions of the court. Re­cent mar­ket con­di­tions have caused some slip­page on the orig­i­nal cap­i­tal, but more than a decade on, the ar­range­ment has worked rea­son­ably well. Ja­maica could learn from, and adapt, the sys­tem to its own needs.

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