Legal System Of Jamaica

The judicial system follows British practice, with some local variations. Cases may be brought in the first instance before a lay magistrate (justice of the peace), a magistrate, or a judge in the Supreme Court, according to the seriousness of the offense or the amount of property involved. The Supreme Court also has appellate jurisdiction. Final appeal rests with the seven-member Court of Appeals, appointed on the advice of the prime minister in consultation with the leader of the opposition. The attorney general, who need not be a member of parliament, is appointed by the governor-general on the advice of the prime minister. The constitution gives power to the Court of Appeal and the parliament to refer cases to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in the United Kingdom. However, Jamaica was among the eight nations (Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Guyana, Jamaica, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Trinidad and Tobago) whose leaders met in Kingston on 9 June 2003 to ratify a treaty to establish the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ). The first session of the CCJ was scheduled for November 2003.

A special "gun court" considers cases involving the illegal use or possession of firearms or ammunition.

The judiciary is independent but is overburdened and backlogged because of a lack of trained personnel. Recent increases in salaries, training programs for judicial personnel, and improvement in court facilities may eventually serve to improve efficiency and processing of cases. In 1995, to reduce the backlog of cases, the government initiated a night court, but little progress has been achieved almost eight years after the reform.

Background To The Laws Of Jamaica

(Statutes)

The Laws of Jamaica (Statutes) were, in modern times, revised in 1938 and again in 1953. However, the volume of legislation enacted by Parliament after 1953 made a further revision imperative. Accordingly, legislation was enacted, the Law Revision Act, 1969, establishing the Law Revision Committee. The Committee operates under the authority of the Law Revision Act.

The Revised Laws published in 1974 included all Acts in force at 31st December, 1973 and since then have been updated annually.

The Revised Laws are now contained in twenty-seven volumes: Volume XXVIII contains the Chronological Table and Volume XXIX contains the Jamaica (Constitution) Order in Council, the Jamaica Independence Act and the West Indies Act.

The Judicial System

The judicial system follows British practice, with some local variations. Cases may be brought in the first instance before a lay magistrate (justice of the peace), a magistrate, or a judge in the Supreme Court, according to the seriousness of the offense or the amount of property involved. The Supreme Court also has appellate jurisdiction. Final appeal rests with the seven-member Court of Appeals, appointed on the advice of the prime minister in consultation with the leader of the opposition. The attorney general, who need not be a member of parliament, is appointed by the governor-general on the advice of the prime minister. The constitution gives power to the Court of Appeal and the parliament to refer cases to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in the United Kingdom. However, Jamaica was among the eight nations (Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Guyana, Jamaica, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Trinidad and Tobago) whose leaders met in Kingston on 9 June 2003 to ratify a treaty to establish the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ). The first session of the CCJ was scheduled for November 2003.

A special "gun court" considers cases involving the illegal use or possession of firearms or ammunition.

The judiciary is independent but is overburdened and backlogged because of a lack of trained personnel. Recent increases in salaries, training programs for judicial personnel, and improvement in court facilities may eventually serve to improve efficiency and processing of cases. In 1995, to reduce the backlog of cases, the government initiated a night court, but little progress has been achieved almost eight years after the reform.

The Lower Courts Of Jamaica

Several of the lower courts in Jamaica are not specifically provided for by the Constitution, but are creatures of statute. Decisions in all of these courts can be appealed to either the Supreme Court or the Court of Appeal depending on the case.

The most ubiquitous of these is the Resident Magistrate's Court which was created and is governed by the Judicature (Resident Magistrate's) Act. There is at least one RM Court in each of Jamaica's 13 parishes with jurisdiction within the parish and one mile outside the parish. The Resident Magistrate's Court has both civil and criminal divisions and hears matters ranging from wounding to petty theft. The Resident Magistrate has no authority, however, to hear serious criminal matters such as murder, rape and treason but can conduct a preliminary Inquiry to determine whether there is sufficient evidence for teh defendant to stand trial in the Supreme Court.

Other courts in Jamaica having similar powers to hear certain matters are the Family Court, The Revenue Court, the Gun Court, and the Traffic Court which are governed respectively by the Judicature (Family Court) Act, The Judicature (Revenue Court) Act, The Gun Court Act and the Traffic Court Act.

The Gun Court hears preliminary inquiries into criminal cases involving crimes committed in Jamaica with the use of firearms.

Below the Resident Magistrate's Court is the Petty Session Court which comprises three justices of peace. Governed by the Justice of the Peace Jurisdiction Act, two justice of peaces have the equivalent power of one resident magistrate.

The Supreme Court Of Jamaica

The Supreme Court of Jamaica was established under section 97 of the Constitution as a court of original jurisdiction. Decisions of the Supreme Court can constitutionally be appealed to the Court of Appeal under the Constitution. The independence of the Jamaican judiciary is ensured by preventing the forced removal of any judge from office except in extreme circumstances and protecting their salaries from reduction.

Under the Constitution, the Supreme Court consists of a Chief Justice, a senior puisne judge and other puisne judges. The current Chief Justice is Lensley J. Wolfe, O.J. The Supreme Court has jurisdiction in both criminal and civil cases. The Criminal Jurisdiction of the Supreme Court, known as the Circuit Court convenes holds sittings in all parishes across Jamaica with the sitting in Kingston, the capital known as the Home Circuit. The Civil jurisdiction sits always in Kingston.

The Jamaican Court Of Appeal

The Jamaican Court of Appeal is provided for by the Jamaican Constitution at section 103. It is constituted by the President, the Chief Justice as ex officio member and six other judges as necessary. The Court of Appeal is an appellate court that hears appeals from decisions of any of the resident magistrate courts and from the Supreme Court. As in the case of the Supreme Court, the independence of a judge of the Court of Appeal is assured by protection against arbitrary removal from office or from reduction in his salary.

Under section 110 of the Constitution, decisions of the Court of Appeal can be appealed to Her Majesty in Council or the Privy Council.

The Privy Council

 Like most of the British Commonwealth, the final court of appeal in Jamaica and the Caribbean is the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council which sits in Englandt. Decisions of the Court of Appeal in Jamaica can be appealed to the Privy Council. The Privy Council's jurisdiction extends to most of the British Caribbean. Lord Falconer of Thoroton is the Lord Chancellor of the Privy Council.

In 1993 the Privy Council held in Pratt & Morgan v. the Attorney General of Jamaica, that it was "inhuman or degrading punishment or other treatment" contrary to section 17 of the Jamaican Constitution to carry out a sentence for execution after a defendant had waited for five years or more for this execution and commuted the appellant's death sentence to a life sentence. This decision and other political facts led to an increased desire in the Caribbean for final appellate jurisdiction to vest in a regional Caribbean Court of Justice which was finally formed in 2001. In the 2005 decision Independent Jamaica Council for Human Rights (1998) Ltd. & others v. Syringa Marshall Burnett and the Attorney General of Jamaica, the Privy Council Board held that the Caribbean Court of Justice Act passed in Jamaica in 2004 and the Judicature (Appellate Jurisdication) (Amendment) Act 2004 which sought to eliminate the Privy Council as the final court of appeal in Jamaica were both void for unconstitutionality.

In its most recent decision on media law in Jamaica, Abrahams v. The Gleaner Co. & Dudley Stokes, the Privy Council upheld the Court of Appeal award of J$35 million in a libel action brought by an ex-minister of government against the Gleaner Jamaica's foremost media. An application to have this decision reviewed for its consistency with the American Convention on Human Rights to which Jamaica is a signatory, has been upheld by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The American Convention protects freedom of thought and expression at article 13. The case will be reviewed by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

The Caribbean Court Of Justice

The Caribbean Court of Justice was established on February 14, 2001 as a regional judicial tribunal. The Caribbean Court of Justice is intended to replace the Privy Council as the final court of appeal for all the member nations. The president of the CCJ is The Right Honourable Mr. Justice Michael de la Bastide.

The Caribbean Court of Justice has jurisdiction in both civil and criminal cases in the region. The CCJ has been very controversial even among the Caribbean legal community. Opponents of the Court have argued that the CCJ, because it is comprised of local justices will be more biased in the decision-making process than the Privy Council. Advocates argue that the Privy Council Law Lords are far too removed from the social realities of Jamaica to understand the complexities underlying our legal system. Most significant on the minds of Jamaicans arguing for a local court of appeal is the Pratt & Morgan v. the Attorney General of Jamaica decision where the Privy Council commuted a death sentence to life on the grounds that it would be cruel and inhumane to execute a man after he had spent more than five years on death row.

The CCJ consists of jurists drawn from the islands of the British Caribbean. While the implementation of the Court has been completed and it has even began to hear cases, there is some question about its jurisdiction and In the 2005 decision Independent Jamaica Council for Human Rights (1998) Ltd. & others v. Syringa Marshall Burnett and the Attorney General of Jamaica, the Privy Council Board held that the Caribbean Court of Justice Act passed in Jamaica in 2004 and the Judicature (Appellate Jurisdication) (Amendment) Act 2004 which sought to eliminate the Privy Council as the final court of appeal in Jamaica were both void for unconstitutionality.

The Inter-American System

Jamaica, like most of the other Caribbean states is a member of the Organization of American States (OAS). However, the island is one of only four Caribbean islands that is a signatory of the American Convention on Human Rights, also known as the Pact of San Jose, after the Capital city in Costa Rica where it was ratified in 1969. The treaty, which was under the aegis of the OAS, became effective in 1978 and is monitored by the the Inter-American Court on Human Rights and the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights.

The Inter-American Commission receives and investigates allegations of human rights abuses in the member states. In 2004, the Privy Council awarded $35 million in damages in a libel suit involving the Gleaner, Jamaica's oldest news paper and a past minister of government in Abrahams v. The Gleaner Co. & Dudley Stokes. An application to have this decision reviewed for its consistency with the American Convention on Human Rights to which Jamaica is a signatory, has been upheld by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The American Convention protects freedom of thought and expression at article 13. The case will be reviewed by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

The Inter-American Court is responsible for making decisions and issuing advisory opinions. Its president is Sergio Garcia Ramirez. Following the 2004 decision of the Inter-American Court on Human Rights in Herrera-Ulloa v. Costa Rica, where the Court voided a libel judgment in the local courts in the amount of US$200,000, there is some concern that the Court's stance on freedom of speech could contradict the local laws on libel. There is some concern that when the Abrahams case is reviewed in the Inter-American Court, it could lead to a new era in libel law in the Caribbean.

The Structure Of The Jamaican Courts

Jamaican judicial system. Jamaica's political system is a parliamentary democracy and is based on the Separation of Powers which posits a system of checks and balances coordinated by three branches of government: the Executive, responsible for running the government and implementing law; the Legislature, charged with adopting laws; and the Judiciary which administers the law and resolves disputes relating to the law. Each of these bodies exist independently as a check on the other two bodies exceeding or abusing their authority. The Web site, however, focuses on the third of three agencies of government - the Judiciary.

In Jamaica the Constitution provides specifically for the Supreme Court as a court of origination. Decisions of the Supreme Court can be appealed to the Court of Appeal. Under the constitution, the final court of appeal for decisions made by the Court of Appeal in Jamaica is the Judicial Committee of the Queen's Privy Council which sits in England. These are the courts specifically provided for by the Jamaican Constitution. However, there are some other localized courts that are created by statutes rather than by the Constitution.

Since almost immediately following Independence in 1962, Caribbean legal scholars have advocated a regional final court of appeal to replace the Privy Council. In 2001 the Caribbean Court of Justice, a regional court of appeal consisting of Caribbean jurists, was introduced into the British-speaking Caribbean by treaty. The Caribbean Court of Justice, it is hoped, will eventually replace the Privy Council as the final court of appeal in Jamaica and the Caribbean.

Finally, Jamaica is a member of the Organization of American States, and one of only four Caribbean islands that is a signatory of the American Convention on Human Rights. This means Jamaican citizens, in the case of human rights abuses by the state have recourse in the Inter-American System of Human Rights.

The Web site includes links to the history of Jamaica, the lower courts, the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeal and the Privy Council. The Web site also includes links to the Caribbean Court of Justice which has been proposed to replace the Privy Council as the final court of appeal in Jamaica. Finally, since Jamaica is a signatory to the the American Convention on Human Rights, it includes a page on the Inter-American System of Human Rights.

The Web site also has a link to Jamaican national symbols and information, other useful resources and information on the author.