The unanswered cry for justice
FR U S T R AT I O N WITH Jamaica’s slothful justice system is creating unease for members of the society because it helps undermine the provision of due process and the concept that all are equal under the law.
From time to time, this simmering frustration comes to the boil. It happened again this week when relatives of a 2011 gunshot victim took to social media to air their annoyance at the pace of the trial. They were reprimanded by the presiding Supreme Court judge.
With the help of social media, defendants and sympathisers can pretty much broadcast their ill feelings in an unfiltered manner. It is a 21st-century phenomenon that grants people a platform to make their feelings heard. Sometimes, these social media rants are unfair, and even dangerous, but they allow an aggrieved party to get a raft of responses from a global community.
KINDS OF JUSTICE
There is a persistent perception that there are two kinds of justice systems in Jamaica: one for the rich and the other for the poor. It is often said that the rich, who can afford to pay huge legal fees to high-profile lawyers, will always fare better than the poor, who rely on court-appointed lawyers.
Jamaica boasts an independent judiciary, with the highest court of the land being the Court of Appeal. However, public confidence in the justice system has taken a battering because of long delays in deciding cases. Justice is delayed in some cases for more than 20 years. For example, the Cash Plus case involving the alleged fraud committed on thousands of Jamaicans has been going on for nearly a decade, with no resolution in sight.
Even though Jamaicans are generally fine with the idea of ‘Jamaica time’, and the ‘no-problem’ syndrome, when it comes to settling disputes and getting redress, they decide that the culture of delay is unacceptable and demand efficiency. Ideally, people want a system that functions speedily and reliably.
Justice Minister Delroy Chuck, who has practised in the courts, appreciates that the staggering backlog is an impediment to justice being served. He has said repeatedly that he is focused on fixing the system, with the objective that criminal cases be cleared up in the Parish Court within 18 months and in the high court within two years.
Even with the introduction of mediation to promote dispute resolution and other processes to ease the caseload of judges, there are so many other factors that affect the movement of cases through the court, and this is what society wants to be fixed.
From all indications, the delays are created by collective inefficiencies from the point of investigation to trial, for along the way, there are many hitches to do with prosecutor processes, incomplete police files, location of witnesses, delays demanded by defence attorneys, and the difficulties encountered in empanelling juries.
The indignation of the public demands that Jamaica should no longer tiptoe around this problem. Giant leaps are expected.