Now, for Mr Chuck’s next move

Jamaica Gleaner - - OPINION & .COMMENTARY -

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.

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