MONTEGO BAY, St James — JUSTICE Minister Senator Mark Golding has supported a call by president of the Cornwall Bar Association Michael Erskine for a justice complex, including a branch of the Supreme Court, to be established in this resort city.
"I would love to see a first-class judicial complex in Montego Bay serving western Jamaica. I think that would be a wonderful thing to have. I think Montego Bay deserves that and needs that," Golding told a justice forum at the Montego Bay Civic Centre last week.
The minister was responding to Erskine's impassioned plea for modern facilities to address what he described as "glaring deficiencies in the administrative justice system" in western Jamaica.
Support for the justice complex also came from Chief Justice Zaila McCalla. The justice forum was put on jointly by the Montego Bay Chamber of Commerce (MBCCI) and the Cornwall Bar Association.
In outlining his case, Erskine said "the sad reality is that... a litigant who has a claim for over $250,000 -- which is not much -- must go to the Supreme Court in Kingston to have his case tried. This is ridiculous, it is unjust, and this will contribute to crime because litigants, out of frustration, will sometimes take the law into their own hands to obtain justice".
He recalled "a time when all gun-related cases had to go to Kingston. A western branch of the Gun Court was set up here in Montego Bay and it worked very well, significantly reducing the pressure on the police to transport prisoners and witnesses and the accused persons to travel for cases all the way to Kingston".
While supporting the call, Golding made no promises.
However, he lamented that over the past five decades justice has not been prioritised by successive administrations.
"Since Independence justice has always been relegated after education, after health. And everything is important; all these things are very worthy, but at the end of the day if you don't have a functioning justice system you can't have an effective law enforcement system, because the justice system is at the end.... it is one continuum," the justice minister argued.
Erskine suggested that upgrade of the Montego Bay justice facilities could begin with the establishment of a civil registry of the Supreme Court, which he said could be done immediately.
"There is absolutely no need for every document to be filed in the Supreme Court, in this day and age, to be sent all the way into Kingston. If such a registry is established, it would relieve the congestion and chaos in the Supreme Court registry and would allow for greater efficiency and accountability."
The Civil Registry of the Supreme Court facilitates the filing of writs and claims exceeding $250,000.
Erskine argued that all that is required for the registry "to become a reality" is a safe and secure location, "two or three trained responsible officers, along with a few other staff members".
He suggested that, at the inception of the proposed western registry, the facility could be restricted to divorces, probate and administration "and a few other common law matters" with the workload being gradually increased.
"This one measure, if implemented, could qualitatively improve the administration of justice throughout the county of Cornwall and by extension, Jamaica," he said.
Erskine said options for location of the proposed judicial complex had been identified in Montego Bay.
"We have identified two possible sites for not only this court... but what we describe as the justice centre which would house the Resident Magistrate Courts, the Family Courts, the Courts Office, the Registry, and the Supreme Court all on one compound, in an elegant and well-deemed surroundings with proper parking facilities, judges chambers and law library befitting a city," Erskine said.
President on the MBCCI Davon Crump also urged the minister to immediately address what he described as the "absolutely ghastly and substandard conditions of the building and the deplorable working conditions that the employees are forced to work under" in institutions of the justice system in Montego Bay. He called for an urgent upgrade of the Family Court, the resident magistrate court building, and the legal aid clinic.
Chief Justice of Jamaica Zaila McCalla backed the calls of the Corwall Bar Association and the MBCCI.
"Serious consideration must be given to find a suitable location to construct a judicial complex here in Montego Bay, the second city and tourism capital of Jamaica. It has been 20 years ago I came down and viewed the conditions of the courthouse (RM) and nothing has been done," she argued.
"There is flooding when it rains, it is behind a gully, the area is noisy due to vehicular traffic from the Howard Cooke Boulevard and adjoining areas -- very busy streets. I am fully committed to work with the Ministry of Justice to address these matters. I feel optimistic and confident that, at long last, perhaps we will be able to address them," she added.