Justice system no worse off because of COVID-19, says Sykes

Chief Justice Bryan Sykes is confident that the local justice system has made good from the bad of the COVID-19 pandemic that led to the closure of the doors of courts across the island on several occasions since March.

Speaking at the Annual Assize Service of the judiciary held at Webster Memorial Church in St Andrew yesterday, Justice Sykes said while there was no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on the courts, not all of it has been negative.

“What we have seen is the almost instant transition to the use of appropriate, current technology so that bail applications are still being done, certainly in the Supreme Court,” said Justice Sykes.

“The police have established [facilities at the] Kingston Central, Half-Way-Tree and Montego Bay Freeport [police stations], and they are currently working on all their main stations in the divisions so that in the coming months we will be able to have bail applications in the parish courts remotely without the persons being brought to court.

“We have also been hearing a lot of appeals electronically and that has been working quite well,” added Justice Sykes.

He said these developments further point to the need “to improve the use and availability of the technology”, adding that through technology the courts are now able to facilitate attorneys from rural Jamaica to be able to develop a practice in the Court of Appeal as well as the Supreme Court.

“All of those are positive things that have come out of this COVID-19 period because it has forced us now to begin to think and adapt to technology. Things that we have been debating for weeks and months and years, suddenly within days we all made the change and all for the good,” Justice Sykes said.

But the chief justice noted that Internet penetration in Jamaica is quite low and argued that this poses another challenge.

“There are persons who are self-represented, litigants and persons who, for whatever reason, may choose not to engage or participate in the process electronically, so we have to find other ways and means to accommodate these persons since we do not want the transition to the digital era to become one of exclusion. But really, we should see it as a means of improving access to justice not just for the litigants but also the attorney,” said Justice Sykes.

In the meantime he said the courts have been reviewing and refining the strategic plan that was launched in January this year for the overall legal system in light of COVID-19.

“We should not be the worst off because of the crisis,” Justice Sykes said.

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