Brooks wants swift action on appeal records

Justice Patrick Brooks says that the Appeal Court, where he serves as president, is pinning its hopes on the newly minted Commission of Senior Judges of the Parish Courts to come up with a fix to ensure that the records of appeal are prepared and sent to it in good time.

Speaking on Sunday during the virtual launch of the commission, Justice Brooks said the island’s parish courts have so far been performing well, but the problem with the records should be remedied.

“The Court of Appeal gets a minute fraction of the cases that are determined in the parish courts; we get significantly less than a hundred per year and there are several reasons for that, but undoubtedly among them is a general satisfaction with the standards of justice that those courts produce, [but] for the cases that are sent to the Court of Appeal we ask for swift action in the preparation of the records of appeal,” he said.

“We hope that the commission will be able to develop a strategy for expediting the preparation and dispatch of those records to our courts. We wish this initiative well, we have every confidence that it will be successful,” Justice Brooks said.

The commission, which is intended to help align the plans and goals of the parish courts with the overall strategic plan of the judiciary unveiled in January last year, is expected to strengthen the leadership and management of the parish courts.

It is made up of senior judges and will provide leadership to transform the lower courts through continuous improved results in the provision of sound, timely judgements and efficient legal services to Jamaicans.

In his address to the launch on Sunday, Chief Justice Bryan Sykes lauded the performance of the island’s parish courts, stating that the presence of statistics has retired the view that they are inefficient.

“We began keeping statistics in the summer of 2016 and since we began keeping that kind of information a number of things have come to light. Firstly, we know that the courts are not as inefficient as persons were suggesting previous to the collection of statistics. Since 2016, we now know that 83 per cent of the cases filed in those courts are disposed of in less than 12 months; our time standard is 24 months,” the chief justice said.

“I think it is a remarkable achievement. Of the cases filed in 2016, we have a net backlog rate that is cases older than 24 months of under five per cent. If we extend the analysis even further we will see that of all cases filed, our net backlog rate, which was 32 per cent in 2016, is now down to less than 10 per cent. That is attributed to the hard work these courts have done and continue to do,” Sykes said.

“The parish courts have shown great resilience in that the clearance rate is an important measure of the productivity of courts,” he said further.

Resident magistrates courts, which were renamed parish courts in 2016, have been in existence for over 100 years. In 2020, the total number of cases filed in the Supreme Court across all divisions (Civil, Revenue, Commercial, Criminal Insolvency, and Family) was 12,757. By comparison, on the criminal side of the parish courts alone in 2020 there were 21,166 new cases.

“It is expected that during 2021, unless something happens, we should be seeing approximately 25,000 cases. On the civil side, 15,000 cases were filed in 2020 and it is anticipated that 19,000 civil cases will be filed in 2021. In effect then, the parish courts received a total of 37,000 cases both criminal and civil compared to the Supreme Court,” Sykes said.

“So there can be no doubt then of the importance of these courts and the very important work that the judges and staff of these courts are doing. The judges and staff in these courts work very hard and the figures bear this out,” the chief justice said.

He added that the commission will act as an incubator for future generations of court leaders within the parish court system and beyond since many of the judges of the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal began their judicial career in these courts.

Each senior parish court judge will be required to submit a monthly progress report on the operational plan of the court that he or she manages to the Strategic Planning Unit of the Court Administration Division for review and analysis.

The members of the commission will also ensure that there is a clear customer service programme being pursued in the courts to improve customer satisfaction. It will also implement programmes to motivate staff.

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