Op-Ed: Why Do Legal Cases in Jamaica Take So Long?


By David Rowe
Op-Ed Contributor

THERE ARE a number of big legal cases which have attracted the attention of Jamaicans both locally and overseas in recent months, most notably the recently-concluded Vybz Kartel case.

What’s noteworthy about almost all of them is just how long they seem to take.

But why do criminal cases in Jamaica take so long? Some civil cases take even longer.

Indeed, it takes months, if not years, for trials to begin, and, once they do, they seem to plod along interminably.

Indeed, it’s not uncommon to see a Judge complete writing his or her judgment three years after the completion of the case.

Investors who were being courted for Jamaica’s ambitious logistics hub project need to be promised a competent, efficient, and fair judicial legal system. Is this the case today?

Almost all Jamaicans agree that the Jamaican Justice System is painfully slow.

From a human rights stand point, this is very particularly harmful for individuals who are detained without bond.

There was a recent media report concerning a 27 year old individual who had been in custody for 10 years without trial.

These individuals are said to remanded in custody; essentially denied bond, and forced to remain in jail until trial.

Jamaica has a huge Remand Center where individuals who have been denied bail stay in custody awaiting the slow wheels of justice to turn.

The Jamaican Justice System is expensive , unpredictable, slow, complicated, and must be reorganized for the country to be better served.

At a recent public lecture, I recommended a “speedy trial” system which would force government prosectors to bring their cases efficiently and within a 90 day window, for starters.

Plainly, North American Investors will not invest in Jamaica in the large numbers Jamaica needs unless the country’s justice system changes.

The Supreme Court registry needs greater computer resources and better staffing. The Director of Public Prosecutions’ Office requires modernization and should include an intake section which would make the process of commencing prosecutions easier.

The twin objectives of socioeconomic justice and investment opportunity should spur the government to reform the justice system as rapidly as possible.

And finally, the entire Justice System should be digitized, following the model of developed countries and requiring the submission of pleadings and the like by email.

It would go a long way toward mitigating corruption, too.

David P Rowe is an attorney in Jamaica and Florida and an adjunct law professor at the University of Miami School of Law in Coral Gables, Fla.

Note: the opinions expressed in Caribbean Journal Op-Eds are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Caribbean Journal.