Judges forewarned

Chief justice calls for accountability

BY DEANDRA MORRISON
Observer staff reporter
morrisond@jamaicaobserver.com

Friday, May 18, 2018

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CHIEF Justice Bryan Sykes yesterday challenged judges and other court staff to hold themselves accountable when they have not performed to the highest standard required to fulfil the mandate of the country's justice system.

“All persons, including judges, must accept that performance is measurable and will be measured. Especially as the judiciary asserts our independence of the other branches of G overnment, we must also be equally strident in asserting our commitment to the matters of the court, which is to provide a timely delivery of a high standard of justice for all,” said Justice Sykes.

He was speaking at yesterday's launch of the Customer Service Centre in the Kingston and St Andrew Parish Court (Civil Division) on Sutton Street in downtown Kingston. Similar centres are to be launched in rural parishes.

Speaking directly to parish court judges who were in attendance, Justice Sykes mandated that all parish courts embrace the manner in which service is delivered to the public by the courts. He added that this was just as important as any judgement being handed down by a judge.

He said findings from the Justice Reform Task Force in 2007 revealed that there was a need for the development of a Jamaican justice system that was more user-friendly and customer-oriented and that better reflected a human rights culture, adding that the launch of the customer service centres in the parish courts was a step forward in addressing the issue.

Justice Sykes said, too, that the “courts of Jamaica operated in a setting where more often than not, staff members are met with anxious, unhappy or otherwise emotionally charged and frustrated customers. Despite these and other challenges, staff members must still treat every member of the court with respect, handle matters with care, promptness and confidentiality”.

He urged judges and court staff to realign resources, retool internal processes, and examine workflow in order to meet legitimate expectations of members of the public.

The chief justice said the court welcomed feedback from the public and was receptive of media scrutiny, as he pointed to a recent media report which revealed that only 27 per cent of reserved judgements was delivered over a 15-month period.

The statistics came directly from the findings of research done by the Court Management Services (CMS), which Justice Sykes described as “unacceptable”.

He added that although work circumstances were poor, this should not be an excuse for bad service from the court.

“These are things that people have a right to know as the legal system consumes a small but increasing amount of public funds. The public has a right to expect improved performance,” he said.

In an effort to keep the court's mandate and improve its customer service to the public, Justice Sykes said the judiciary has trained more than 500 staff members in customer service in the public sector, customer expectation, communication under challenging circumstances, and monitoring and evaluating service delivery.

He announced yesterday that an assessment would be done on the delivery of services inside the courts, especially as it related to how the court responds to complaints.

“We have now established a system in the Supreme Court where letters that come in are filtered into the complaints system that is established by CMS so that we can monitor to those who the letters come in, the time in which there should be a response, and a follow-up.”

Justice Minister Delroy Chuck, in the meantime, said the launch of the Customer Service Centres was a timely step in the right direction and that his ministry had a responsibility to ensure that the infrastructure of the courts was of first-world quality.

“With the increased use of technology and the emergence of the knowledge economy, the public has expectations of broader, more diversified range of public services that can respond to evolving individual and community needs,” he said.

Chuck added that it was important that the public sector make doing business with the Government easier in order for the country to become globally competitive.

The centre in Kingston is an upgrade of the Sutton Street Courthouse's customer care facility, which saw the installation of an electronic ticketing and numbering system and addition of an information desk. A television set, water cooler, telephone, and a computer which has access to the Internet were also added for use by customers.

A waiting area was also constructed on the outside of the court.

The new Customer Service Centre was made possible through the contributions of the Justice Undertaking for Social Transformation Programme — a Canadian bilateral justice sector improvement project — that aims to strengthen and reform Jamaica's justice system.

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