Jamaica Gleaner / Of all the individual parts that are stitched together to make a society healthy, viable, socially secure and happy, the most important is justice. Lack of justice is similar to being homeless, living on the sidewalk, and subject to the extremes of weather.
It is being stoned like a dog and having to recourse to a willing ear and a louder voice. It is the utter lack of power over one’s attempts to escape degradation and to feel human. In a normal polity, if a man’s neighbour wrongs him and across-the-fence mediation has not worked, the courts of the land are available to both parties.
True justice is that compact where each member of a society agrees to a basic code. At the heart of it is that we all stand in judgement of each other and, we accept the final outcome whether it is forced prison time or a vocal admonition from the bench.
The Office of the DPP is headed by Paula Llewellyn, a feisty advocate and a lady who has never been one to fear telling legislators (a fancy name for politicians) that justice is royally mucked up in this country. One main part of it is simply that there are not enough courthouses to hold the needed court sessions.
While pronouncing before the Public Administration and Appropriations Committee in Parliament, she said, “Part of Jamaica’s problem is the fact, and I say it, that the justice system has never been as sexy for you legislators as building a highway. Therefore, the resources have not been put in place over the last 30, 40 years.”
In other words, to the typical Jamaican politician who is always thinking about his immediate political lifespan – from here to the next election – it is better to roll out make-work programmes like Michael Manley’s 1970’s Impact Programme (crash programme) where money is given over to partisan supporters for pretending to work and the many iterations of it that have lasted until this day.
Ms Llewellyn is, in effect, saying to the politicians that they have deliberately squandered the honour and the privilege of significantly advancing the success of this nation while bowing to the politics of optics and ‘bullowuk’.
“Therefore, the resources have not been put in place over the last 30, 40 years,” she said. Are you getting the full gist of her statement?
At the heart of her saying that resources have not been put in place are the words ‘priority’ and ‘choice’. Constructing even the minimum number of courthouses that would be needed for each parish capital was just never a priority for politicians because doing so would not be vote catching.
PITY THE SURPRISED POLITICIANS
Assistant DPP Jeremy Taylor was more pointed. “When you need to make a submission in law, or when the jurors need to retire to consider a verdict, you have to empty the room of the custody person, put them to sit in the court, while the jurors go in to deliberate,” he said in relation to the situation in Black River.
Yes, he was telling us that during a case, the custody person and the jurors only have one room between them. It gets worse.
Said Taylor with more than deliberate sarcasm: “You have not lived until you enter the St Ann courthouse to see police fingerprinting persons right in front of a courtroom door and a holding area, which is under a staircase, where I share the same bathroom with a person in custody.”
To that, PNP member Fitz Jackson exclaimed in what had to be, mock surprise, “You can’t be telling the truth!”
Fitz Jackson is senior member of a party whose administration once held power from February 1989 to September 2007 – 18 and a half years. Surely, there must exist documented evidence of these gaping disparities.
Over many months, Paula Llewellyn has been speaking out stridently about the sheer lack of physical facilities to keep a court in session. It is one thing to have a judge nearly falling through a courtroom floor as happened a few years ago, but a judge not even having a courthouse with a rotted floor is an entirely different matter.\
I can well understand the relatively young politician, the PNP’s Mikhail Phillips, expressing surprise when he said in generic terms, “This has been a wake-up call,” but I am not buying the response from Fitz Jackson.
The late singer Peter Tosh told us in a song many years ago that it would be quite foolish for us to talk about attaining peace when there is no justice. Apparently, politicians were not invented yet, so that public memo missed them.
To me, the operative word is choice. Successive political administrations have always known that the justice system is stacked against the small man. And, just in case a ‘big man’ wins a case against the Government, the courts will allow a submission from a government high official to delay that ‘big man’ getting his rights because the ultimate bully is the government.
Governments get their votes from road building, road repairs, bushing and other variations of handing out goodies to the party faithful. Erecting another courthouse is simply not a priority, as experienced advocates already know how to manipulate the flaws of the system to their own advantage.
Justice or a sharpened cutlass?
Jake is in his mid-50s and I didn’t know that side of him. He was on the verge of tears and cussing no ends of ‘bad wud’.
He and a younger man had a dispute over money that the man owed him for rent. “Is $5,000 him owe mi fi two months’ rent.” The property was close to a gully bank. “Mi ask him fi mi rent and di man draw cutliss. Mi grab it way, but him buck mi inna mi head and all lick out mi false teet.”
Jake’s pride was hurt and his dentures cracked in two. He was by a little shop and he was armed with his own sharpened machete. Through tears, he began to beat the side of a concrete wall with the sharp implement. Repeatedly.
As he did so, he was saying in a rhythm to the beat of the ‘lass, “Mi nah go nuh courthouse. Mi a go dun him tonight! Mi ago dun him tonight!”
His arms grew tired and I and others tried to reason with him. At the same time, I thought that if there were some local community court for civil matters, his problem could be resolved by a display of social civility and justice instead of a cutlass.
That was last Wednesday. I have not seen him since Thursday morning, but as I write this, it is occurring to me that for the last 30, 40 years, the legislators of this country saw in Jake only his potential as a vote each election and not providing him with an essential social service as basic as a rudimentary justice system.
Paula Llewellyn represents the ultimate that our Jamaican home-grown can reach in life, and in her moment, as she spoke to the suits in Parliament, she was more representative of understanding the frustration, the ignorance and the faded hopes of people like Jake.
In her submissions, she was more a representative of the people than any politician who had the temerity to stand up in Parliament and pretend ignorance of the extremely degraded system of Jamaican justice.
The PNP’s P.J. Patterson was Jamaica’s most winning prime minister. He is also a lawyer. Surely he knew of it. The PNP’s Portia Simpson Miller told us that she lived for loving the poor. Surely she must have known of it. The JLP’s Bruce Golding and Andrew Holness, along with the present justice minister, Delroy Chuck, know of it.
What more should Paula say to bring about change?