Ninety Nine Per Cent of Lawyers Give the Others a Bad Name

In January 2006, veteran court reporter Barbara Gayle wrote a story about the state of the Jamaican resident magistracy based on an interview with president of the RM’s association, Marlene Malahoo Forte. It was wide-ranging and addressed not only salary and other personal emoluments issues with which the judges were faced but also concerns about working conditions which contributed to slowing the dispensation of justice.

The piece which appeared in the January 22, 2006 edition of the Gleaner took the government to task for the ills facing the magistrates, such as the fact they were classified as civil servants rather than members of the independent judiciary even as the magistracy is the court of first instance.

“Resident Magistrates who are indeed judges, are treated with disdain and it is abundantly clear that we shoulder the greater part of the administration of justice,” quoted Gayle who added that Malahoo Forte was referring to the heavy workload the magistrates faced.

“The Resident Magistrate’s Courts are the people’s courts. The face of justice which the public usually sees first or encounters first, is that of the RM courts because it is the court of first instance. Serious cases such as murder and rape are first brought before the RM courts. So until the Government improves the conditions and fixes the problems, the cries for justice will continue to go out,” Malahoo Forte said.

Later in the story Gayle quoted her as noting that although, a few of the court offices had computers, they did not have the proper programmes which are essential for the smooth administration of the court offices.

She added that when Circuit Courts were in session, the resident magistrates were displaced and had to keep court in side offices which were not suitable for the holding of court.

I haven’t seen the outcry of the reaches of the bench, the justice ministry or the various associations condemning that outspokenness but her June 2008 charge that many lawyers were behaving like hustlers thereby contributing to backlogs in the system, has drawn outcry from legions.

This is from the June 25, 2008 online edition of the Gleaner story headlined EDITORS’ FORUM’: Hustlers’ – Unprofessional lawyers frustrating justice system:

Malahoo Forte continued: “The truth is that some of them are just lazy and don’t want to work,” arguing that the “unbelievable” lack of professionalism displayed by some attorneys contributed to the unacceptable backlog in court cases.

What was so wrong about Malahoo Forte’s latest comment that has irked lawyers who continue to condemn them, most arguing that she should not have spoken out publicly? Apparently of grave concern is that “these opinions could be expressed by a junior magistrate, in the manner and place that they were”

“It is hoped that any reform in the justice system will address the matter of selection of people who are to become resident magistrates and judges, and that there will be transparency in the process,” declared Clayton Morgan, president of the Cornwall Bar Association in a broadside in the July 10 online edition of the Jamaica Observer that highlights her supposed juniority and obliquely questions her suitability to sit on the bench.

I’m sure that that Malahoo Forte would agree 100 per cent with Morgan on the matter of transparency, that legal hanky panky should be aired in the same public arena the rest of us are exposed in when caught with our pants down. Jamaica may have the dubious distinction of the highest ratio of churches per square mile in the world but the island certainly has no sacred cows.

I never believed it when my doctor friend told me that 99 per cent of lawyers gave the others a bad name but when the magistrate threw the stone in the sty she didn’t have to take aim. The squeals are ringing loudly.

About Mark Lee

Editor, author and writer with career spanning print, radio, television and new media.

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