What is the Function of the Supreme Court in Jamaica?
Answered Bay Isreal, Associate Writer
Background On Jamaica's Legal System
The Jamaican legal system is based on the Common Law system.
The common law system originated from the British system (the whole commonwealth follows this judiciary) and is centred on societal customs, norms and the judgements over them to be enforced as outlined by the court.
This means that the Jamaican court makes decisions based on prior judgements except in the case of the Supreme Court where the previous decision becomes a persuasive authority.
This is because of the principle of stare decisis which means let the decision stand especially when the cases are significantly similar.
The Court Structure In Jamaica
The courts in Jamaica can be classified according to the two (2) branches of government: Parliament (Legislative) and the Prime Minister (Executive).
The figure below shows a visual of the Jamaican court system which has five (5) levels.
The two lower levels of court in Jamaica were passed by statutes from the Jamaican Parliament.
The lowest of the court ranking is the petty court which is for minor cases presided over by two (2) Justices of the Peace (JP) per session.
Fig.1 Jamaican Court System
Above the petty court is the Resident Magistrates Court (RM) created by Resident Magistrate Act 1928 and is present in every parish. The Resident Magistrate Court is at the same level/tier as the specialised courts: Traffic, Gun, Drug, Coroner’s, Night, Tax, Family and Small Claims courts which are also established based on statutes.
Above the RM and specialised courts is the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court is the third level judicial authority in Jamaica and is presided over by the Chief Justice which comprises of Puisne Judges.
Above the Supreme Court is the Court of Appeal which is the highest authority on the island.
The Court of Appeal may take cases not only from the Supreme Court but also the Resident Magistrates Court (RM).
Finally, in very rare circumstances does a case may go beyond the island and appeal to Her Majesty’s Privy Council in England.
Do note that if the Caribbean Court of Justice is successfully established then the Privy Council will be replaced.
The figure above does not show this fifth level of the court structure.
Functions of the Supreme Court
The Supreme Court was established under chapter seven (7) of the Jamaican constitution.
The Supreme Court has three divisions: civil, criminal and commercial (revenue).
There are four (4) functions of the Supreme Court:
- The trying of serious civil cases
- The trying of serious criminal cases
- Appellate jurisdiction/ appeal over cases tried in lower courts such as the Resident Magistrate.
- Reviewing of legislation in accordance to the constitution
The Supreme Court is presided over by a chief justice. The current chief justice is The Honourable Justin Bryan Skyes (CD).
Former Supreme Court Judges
Since Jamaica’s independence we have had eight (8) chief justices over the years namely:
- Sir Colin McGregor (1962)
- Sir Rowland Phillips (1963-1968)
- Sir Herbert Duffus (1968-1973
- Hon. Kenneth Smith (1973-1984)
- Hon. Edward Zacca (1985-1996)
- Hon. Lensley Wolfe (1996-2007) and
- Hon. Zailla McCalla (2007-2018).
Civil Cases Function
Regarding civil matters the court deals with cases on negligence, breach of contract, slander, trespass, divorce, equity, guardianship of infants and estates of lunatics. Please note that civil jurisdiction is only within Kingston.
Criminal Cases Function
The criminal cases of the Supreme Court are handled by the Circuit Court after committal by Resident Magistrates.
The head Circuit Court in Kingston (capital city) is called the Home Circuit and other specialized courts such as the Gun Court and the Revenue Court are co-jurisdiction with the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court issues writs and summonses under the three previously mentioned divisions.
Decisions of the Supreme Court may be appealed in the Appeal Court.
However any matter tried in a lower court may be appealed in the Supreme as previously mentioned. The Supreme Court does not pass legislations.
The building is located at:
Public Buidling East
134 Tower Street, Kingston 5
Additional information can be found at:
- Structure of the Jamaican Court System http://supremecourt.gov.jm/sites/default/files/pdf_documents/Structure-of-the-Jamaican-Court-System.pdf
- List of Puisne Judges http://supremecourt.gov.jm/content/current-judges
- Example of Supreme Court Report(Easter 2018)
- Government of Jamaica. Legal System taken from http://www.supremecourt.gov.jm/content/legal-system
- Jamaica Gleaner. The Jamaican Legal System Explained taken from www.digjamaica.com/ Judicial_ and legal
- Jamaica Information Service. In a Nutshell the Jamaican Constitution, 1962 taken from https://jis.gov.jm/media/constit.pdf
- Jamaica Information Service. The Judiciary taken from https://jis.gov.jm/government/the-judiciary/
- Slowe, Jeanne and Claudette Solomon. Jamaican Legal System and Guide to Legal Research taken from http://www.nyulawglobal.org/globalex/JAMAICA.html#IVC