Jamaica Gleaner
Published: Monday | July 6, 2009
Home : Commentary
EDITORIAL - Financing Jamaica's courts

Last week's action by the Government to decouple the salaries of the top judiciary from those of other legal officers in the Jamaican public service will allow the administration to meet its immediate objective of substantially increasing the pay of high court judges.

The move provides, too, an opportunity for renewed focus on a related issue - the quality and availability of justice in Jamaica.

The cynics, we expect, will say that we get what we pay for, which is not particularly good. That assessment, however, is not uniformly true.

Indeed, despite the stresses and strains on the judicial system, there are few who would question, broadly speaking, the quality and or integrity of the Jamaican judiciary. It is common ground that our courts are generally badly managed, lacking in administrative discipline and are pathetically slow. It is not uncommon, for instance, for a civil matter to take a decade or more to meander its way through the administrative slurry of the system.

And, as the Pratt and Morgan case infamously revealed in the 1990s, the criminal jurisdiction can be equally slow - or worse. It took a decade and half for Pratt and Morgan to work its way through the inefficient maw of the Jamaican court/legal system before its regurgitation with humiliating and continuing effect into the Privy Council.

Yet, no one contends that the Jamaican judiciary is corrupt; nor is there a claim to the inadequacy of its jurisprudence. Rather, it is held, judges lack the appropriate resources, human and otherwise, with which to do their jobs efficiently. This is compounded by the poor physical conditions in which judicial workers function.

Largely, it comes down to money - or the unavailability of it - to hire the best support staff, to implement the best technology and to provide the best physical infrastructure - all of which impact the efficiency of the system and the quality of justice delivered to all stakeholders.

For example, in the current fiscal year, the justice ministry's budget of $3.6 billion is roughly the same as in 2008/2009 when the expenditure was deemed to be woefully inadequate. In the event, an absence of money to finance the project makes serious reform just so much rhetoric.

The question, therefore, is how to fund the judicial system so as to bring it up to acceptable operating standards, enhance its independence and for it to win the confidence of the widest spectrum of the society? We believe, as we have suggested before, a model of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) could, with modification, well prove appropriate for the Jamaican.

US$100-million trust fund

For the CCJ, Caribbean governments contributed to a US$100-million trust fund, of which they have no control and which is independently managed. The returns from that fund finance the court, allowing it another level of insulation from sponsoring governments.

It seems to us that the Jamaican Government could establish a similar fund to finance the operation of the Jamaican courts. The Government would make annual contributions to this fund until it reaches the agreed level of capital, assuming that it could not put up all the money at once. These contributions would not obviate the regular budgetary obligations until the the agreed capital is achieved.

We should begin a debate on what is possible, for what currently exists is not tenable.

The opinions on this page, except for the above, do not necessarily reflect the views of The Gleaner. To respond to a Gleaner editorial, email us: editor@gleanerjm.com or fax: 922-6223. Responses should be no longer than 400 words. Not all responses will be published.

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