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Jamaica Justice System – Cluttered with Relics of Post-British Colonialism


Ambassador Ralph Thomas

Jamaica Justice System – Cluttered with Relics of Post-British Colonialism

Congratulations to Justice Lennox Campbell OD, Q.C. on his retirement from the Jamaican Judiciary and for his distinguished service to Jamaica on the Bench.

Importantly, the learned Justice points to certain operational and capacity problems that have resulted in an overburdened Judiciary and the perception of an exceedingly slow Justice System, where “Justice delayed is often Justice denied.”

In taking an integrated and systemic approach to the delivery of Justice to our Citizens, we have to conclude that there are many moving parts; many of which are not subject to creation of new pieces of Legislation, but to sound managerial and organizational practices of the type that is available to institutions in the Private Sector. This includes deeper embrace of available technologies for managing service processes and client-friendly courtrooms and centralized back-offices relating to record-keeping, scheduling and other activity.

Justice Campbell’s call for the highest quality in the paperwork that accompanies the cases and Judgments is laudable, but a bit out of touch in a system that is so cluttered with relics and procedures of post-British Colonialism that it can’t possibly be delivered in quite the same way, given the “Resource Constraints” under which the Judiciary is forced to operate. Thus creative solutions are required and new lenses used to analyze this intractable problem

I have no doubt that our distinguished Judiciary is indeed over-worked and support his call for allocating sufficient time to produce the Judgments. But in a managerial situation where resources (including manpower) have to be optimized, there must be a prioritization between ordinary run-of-the-mill cases that can be handled using “standardized” efficient high-speed service processes versus those cases that relate to deeply embedded Principles of Law that must be tested and refined within the Common Law System, because they set new Precedents for decisions of future cases. These are “Custom Processes” that require one-of solutions and greater investment of time, research, reflection and study.

To further explain this phenomenon, the idea is to streamline procedures and identify and remove resource bottlenecks that restrict the smooth process flow and delay delivery of Justice. Concepts of Total Quality Management (TQM) are now well understood and tremendous expertise is available in the Diaspora to blend with other areas of expertise in finding a managed solution to the problem. We are obviously not even using 20th Century solutions to address 21st Century problems, but this can change.

Application of “Operational Research” and “Operational Management” approaches can yield better outcomes, especially if new skill sets are introduced into the pool of talent. Some basic examples of the kind of approaches may include “Queuing Theory” and “Linear Programming” methodologies that often underlie service process evaluations; when institutions such as Banks wish to evaluate how long a customer should be allowed to wait in line without becoming dissatisfied, or how long it will take to process and disburse a loan, or how many tellers should be working at any time to keep lines short. Since a multidisciplinary approach is required, our Tertiary Institutions and our Business schools can play a pivotal role in strategies to change the paradigm.

I leave it to the Lawyers within our Jurisdiction and the many fine Lawyers in the Diaspora to share their views and perspectives and experiences in the management of Judicial Systems, wherever they are. By System I do not only refer to computerized systems and Applications, but to all the integrated parts of the Courts and its administration. I recognize that the Legal System in the USA is based on different principles than in Jamaica and that these differences must be taken into account. What is inarguable is that the Service Processes, Methodologies, Technologies, and Managerial and Performance Management Systems that have become routine in the USA for example, could find application in Jamaica; if fully resourced.

While I have focused entirely on the operational side of the Justice System as opposed to the Law, we must be reminded that one of the seminal sources of crime, violence and murder in our beautiful Jamaica is derived from the Citizen’s inability to attain “Justice” in a timely manner and therefore feeling forced to take matters into their own hands, rather than relying on the Law. It also leads to frustration of the Police and the predisposition to engage in extra-judicial actions. Progress in this area can lead to a better balance in the long run.

The time is long past where restriction of citizens’ rights and more aggressive and brutal policing are tendered as the solution to our crime problem. These strategies have never worked. Our nation must deliver not only Public Safety, but Justice to all our citizens.

The challenges exist in both the Criminal Law and the Civil Law courts; where long delays are prejudicial to business outcomes. Indeed, sluggishness and inefficiency in the Civil Courts is bad for business and a serious impediment to renewed GDP Growth. Contract disputes, Real Estate conflict resolution, Corporate Reorganizations and Bankruptcy proceedings for example, are all areas for improved outcomes that may save jobs and create opportunities for increased output in the new business environment.

I support the call for adequate Retirement Provisions to be made for these honourable ladies and gentlemen who serve on the bench and if they so desire to continue to play a part in the delivery and management of Justice, then opportunities need to be created to avail Jamaica of their skills.

This should apply equally to Lawyers or Judges or experienced persons with technical expertise in Justice Administration, now serving in the UK and USA (and other Jurisdictions); including many who are working presently in other Caribbean jurisdictions and making a good contribution where they are.

Ambassador Ralph Thomas is Senior Teaching Fellow – Mona School of Business and Management – University of the West Indies; and a former ambassador of Jamaica to China and to the United States of America, and former Permanent Representative of Jamaica to the Organization of American States.


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