Western attorneys want more resources pumped into region’s court services
Attorneys in western Jamaica are calling for an urgent ballistics laboratory, body cameras for the police, and additional personnel at the Western Regional Supreme Court Registry, which currently is inadequately staffed.
The call was made on Sunday during the Annual Assize Church Service to mark the Michaelmas Term session of the Trelawny Circuit Court at the William Knibb Memorial Baptist Church in Falmouth.
With the service held under the theme ‘Equity and justice in changing times’, Michael Hemmings, president of the Cornwall Bar Association, made the suggestions as ways to improve the dispensation of justice within the west.
His message was met with a resounding round of applause by members of the congregation, although this was not his first appeal to the authorities to have a ballistic lab where potential exhibits have to be sent to Kingston for a report to be generated.
“We have the Western Regional Gun Court that sits all year round, and the cases are sometimes delayed because exhibits such as firearms, ammunition, spent casings, things that are recovered on the scene, have to be sent to Kingston for testing. And a certificate is then produced from Kingston to the courts,” he lamented while explaining his position to The Gleaner.
Body cameras, which have been a sore issue for years, made it on his list because he is confident they can bring forth evidence that prevents attorneys from finding loopholes in statements.
The body cameras, he said, allow the efficient running of the court, and speedy dispensation of matters.
“It’s something that we have written about, on numerous occasions, past presidents and myself.”
And, although there seems to be no end in sight, Hemmings is optimistic body cameras will eventually be provided to the cops.
According to him, matters go before the Western Regional Gun Court quite frequently, including offences where weapons are said to be recovered from individuals.
“A body camera where camera footage is presented would show how the firearm was recovered and not have heavy reliance on a statement from an officer that is going to be questioned in court by a defence attorney,” he argued, adding that footage will show how the firearm was recovered, to support a statement that would be given by the officer.
With the minimum mandatory sentencing of 15 years for possession of a firearm, he said, it is even more critical now.
“With the new dispensation, the new legislation also, what we see, there’s a need for what we call a letter from the Firearm Licensing Authority to say that that weapon is unauthorised or not registered in the system. So that’s an added burden and that also causes delays in the system.”
He lauded the parish courts in St James, Hanover, Trelawny and Westmoreland for having the best turnaround time in the trying of cases, noting this was a testimony to the astute management by the parish judges and attorneys-at-law.
He, however, acknowledged that there was much more that needed to be done, even while committing his and his members’ determination and willingness to do their part.
But, pointing to the registry at the Western Regional Court, which is located at the National Housing Trust building in Montego Bay, he said he wants that operation to work efficiently.
Currently, there is only one registrar and, reportedly, two court staff, which Hemmings says is just not sufficient to serve four western parishes.
“If we get assistance, we can see where matters are filed and attorneys will interface more frequently with the registry, instead of going to Kingston where matters are dealt with more expeditiously than here,” he stated.