Legal Eagle : A new-look Supreme Court

January 22, 2018
Chief Justice Zaila McCalla arrives at the Supreme Court in downtown Kingston earlier this month.


The Government, through the minister of justice, has been very critical of the justice system, in general, and the criminal justice system in particular.

Some of the comments point to delay in the delivery of judgments, light sentences given to convicts of serious crimes, bail offered to prisoners previously charged with serious crimes, or bail offered to persons charged with murder and firearm offences, and a litany of other complaints.

The solutions proposed include the appointment of a new chief justice who will 'crack the whip' on the back of the judges to ensure that they deliver their judgments in a timely manner. There is also a proposal to amend the Bail Act to prevent judges from having any discretion to offer bail to persons charged with murder or firearm offences.

The Government, in seeking to reform the justice system, could also restructure the hierarchy of the court system. At present, the hierarchy of the courts look like this: At the bottom you have the Petty Sessions Courts, then the Parish Court to include but not limited to the Traffic Court and Family Court, thereafter the Supreme Court that includes but not limited to the Gun Court, Revenue Court and Circuit courts. Next is the Court of Appeal and at the top is the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council.

There is a view that what we now call the Supreme Court should be referred to as the High Court and the Court of Appeal should be referred to as the Supreme Court.




In England, the House of Lords, which was formerly England's final Court of Appeal, is now called the Supreme Court. The United States Supreme Court is their highest ranked court. The model is also used in New Zealand, Australia and many other countries around the world. In all of these jurisdictions, the chief justice sits in the Supreme Court. Thus, the countries named above are only giving effect to the word 'supreme', which means "highest in rank or authority".

The only other issue is where the chief justice should sit. In the United States, England, New Zealand, Australia and South Africa, just to name a few, the chief justice sits in the highest-ranked court, that is to say, the Supreme Court. That makes very good sense.

However, in Jamaica, the chief justice sits in the Supreme Court, which is a court that is lower in rank to the Court of Appeal.

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