Editorial | Photocopiers and efficient justice
Chief Justice Bryan Sykes believes that photocopying machines in Jamaica’s courts are too expensive to operate and that the system of replicating documents would be more economically and efficiently achieved with other technologies. Which, presumably, would help in making Jamaica’s judicial system the world-class one the chief justice envisages.
“This question of photocopying really has to come to an end,” the chief justice said at a symposium last month on the judicial system. “[There is] too much use of paper, toner [and] ink, when technologically it really isn’t necessary any more. We’ll be pushing in that direction to have better utilisation of our resources, because we shouldn’t be spending significant sums of money on photocopy machines and repairing photocopy machines.”
It is hardly likely that Justice Syke’s view has anything to do with the prolonged breakdown, without repair, of the photocopying machine at the Supreme Court in Kingston, which, staff and lawyers say, is negatively impacting the operations of the court.
As this newspaper reported last week, the out-of-service machine has sent staff scrambling for other means of reproducing files and other documents, including transcripts of cases going back four years. The effect is not only felt on the work of the Supreme Court, but also the Court of Appeal, which depends on transcripts from the lower courts for its own proceedings.
Things have been this way for two months, without anyone, it seems, knowing when the photocopier will be either repaired or replaced. “I have no idea,” a court official told The Gleaner. Neither is it clear if, or when, the alternative technologies proposed by Justice Sykes will be implemented and/or put fully into use.
What is clear, however, is the potential of the broken copier to undermine the chief justice’s ambition of making “our judiciary ... among the best in the world” by 2025, based on the timetable he set in 2019. By Justice Sykes’ schedule, his court should already be “the best in the Caribbean”, having passed the three-year deadline for that achievement.
MEETING GLOBAL GOALS
Indeed, by the chief justice’s assessment, Jamaica was already on its way to meeting its global goals. The backlog of cases in the system, at all levels, is being cleared, despite the difficulties faced by judges, especially at the parish courts. Although some judges have to travel “up to four, five hours per day getting to and from court”, Justice Sykes said at that symposium last month, “They have been able to deliver justice to the international standards.”
“I say international standard because the international standard for case clearance is 90 to 110 per cent, and every single parish court, all 13 parish courts, exceed the international standard,” he added.
Yet, on the face of it, some of these gains will be eroded, especially higher up the judicial chain, if files cannot be readily replicated at the Supreme Court because of a broken, relatively inexpensive photocopier and a system for the electronic storage and transmission of files is not in place, or is not being used.
If one is not already in the courts, the installation of a networked digital storage and transmission system ought to be a priority. In the meantime, the work of the court, which includes using photocopiers, has to go on as efficiently as possible. Therefore, the one at the Supreme Court should be fixed, or replaced.
Indeed, the Court Management Division, the agency that provides administrative support to the courts, must say when this will happen and explain the delay. Or perhaps Justice Sykes himself might wish to speak to the matter, given his past pronouncements on photocopiers.
Until the court moves to a digital system, which means that, for now, photocopiers remain in play, this terminable breakdown of the one at the Supreme Court is untenable. For it is not the first time that photocopiers have gone bust. It should be anticipated that such breakdowns will happen and contingencies put in place for their eventuality.
Yet, there was a recurrence of the situation in 2011 and 2015, when faulty photocopiers also meant the documents could not be replicated. We do not expect that it is the same photocopier that is giving trouble again. Maybe people should be thankful that, unlike the 2015 episode, cranky elevators are not in the mix, contributing to the frustrations at the Supreme Court.
But beyond the specific impact of this broken-down photocopier on the operation of the court, there is our old concern of Jamaica’s seeming inability to do the little things, or to get them consistently right. These failures have outsized effects. Like the (in)efficiency with which justice is delivered.