Now, for Mr Chuck’s next move
JAMAICANS WILL want to believe in Delroy Chuck’s declared embrace of their demands for an urgent fix of the country’s ailing justice system and his promise that the Holness administration “will not let you down”.
This newspaper, of course, wishes Mr Chuck, and the Government more broadly, every success. For as the justice minister suggested, Jamaica is in a race against time, lest there is a total collapse of public confidence in a critical arm of government “that has been largely neglected for several decades”.
But while Mr Chuck highlighted the continuation, and, in some cases, the apparent acceleration and expansion of ongoing projects that should ameliorate some of the problems in the system, he has, thus far, failed to provide an overarching programme with clear, measurable goals and specific timelines to fulfil his objectives. Nor has he offered any credible or sustainable ideas for the financing of the justice system. We expect this package from the minister in short order.
Mr Chuck’s evocative statement this week on the crisis facing the justice system was triggered by the collapse of the so-called X6 murder trial and his seeming concern about how the outcome, and the public response to it, feeds into the narrative of bifurcated justice, with the quality dispensed from either branch dependent on who the recipient is. We make no judgment on the specifics of this case, with its cross-weaves of implied corruption and ethical lapses and courtroom tactics and strategies.
For as important as these considerations may be, and Mr Chuck’s animation notwithstanding, the courts are clogged with nearly half a million cases in backlog, which underlines the systemic problems that corrode the island’s justice arrangements.
One of those cases was reported on by this newspaper on Sunday. It involves Tafari Williams, who was convicted in 2007 on a firearm charge and was sentenced to 12 years in jail. He appealed, but after eight years, the transcript of his case had not reached the Court of Appeal. Mr Williams was allowed by the Court of Appeal to abandon his appeal, with the time that he had been in jail counting towards his sentence. Normally, once an appeal has been filed and pending, a person’s time of detention in prison isn’t counted as part of his term of imprisonment and the abandonment of an appeal is usually treated as a loss of the case.
But in this circumstance, the appeal judges ruled that an eight-year delay in delivering the transcript of Mr Williams’ case to their court was “outrageous”, resulting in him being “denied his right to a fair consideration of his application for leave to appeal”.
Such outrage – and worse – is common in Jamaica’s courts – criminal and civil.
Some of the initiatives that are being worked on, and reiterated by Mr Chuck, such as recording systems in courtrooms and technology to allow for the taking of evidence from remote locations, will help. So, too, is the plan to increase the number of judges. But Jamaica has made forward movements on justice in the past. The problem is that they have not been sustained.
A major part of the problem was that they were not underpinned by orderly work programmes or sustainable budgets. These are matters for Mr Chuck to address.