What is the structure of the Jamaican Court System?
The structure of the Jamaican court system is based on five tiers –each progressive tier has greater power over those below. As Jamaica is part of the Commonwealth, it shares many characteristics with the England and Wales court systems.
Petty Sessions Court: Run by Justices of the Peace, their jurisdiction is controlled by statute and limited to minor criminal matters.
Resident Magistrates’ Court: The inferior court of record, this court has jurisdiction over civil and criminal matters – unlike England and Wales which specifically reserves magistrates for criminal matters only. For civil proceedings, the limit that may be dealt with is $250,000. For criminal matters, the magistrates have less sentencing power than the Supreme Court. Each parish deals with matters within its jurisdiction.
This court is split into many divisions in order to streamline the work efficiently. Most of these are fairly self-explanatory, the one exception being the Night Court. In order to deal with a backlog of work, certain matters were heard outside regular court hours – reducing pressure on the system in certain parishes.
Supreme Court: The superior court of record, dealing with serious civil and criminal matters for all the parishes. It has unlimited jurisdiction, which means that there are no limitations on which matters the court can consider. The court is split into divisions in order to efficiently divide the work between the Judges (of which there is a statutory limit of 40).
Court of Appeal: The court to which any cases in Jamaica are first referred to upon appeal, the jurisdiction of the court is limited by statute to appeals from the lower courts. The court consists of a President, a Chief Justice and a maximum of twelve other Judges.
Privy Council: The court system of Jamaica itself reflects its commonwealth history, being similar in composition to the court system of England and Wales. As such, the jurisdiction for final appeals rests with the Sovereign of the United Kingdom, vested in the Privy Council. Only cases of legal importance or large financial value go to the Privy Council.
Caribbean Court of Justice: Since gaining independence, Jamaican law has naturally begun to diverge from that of England and Wales. As such, there was a strong impetus to find a more suitable solution for final appeals than relying upon the Privy Council. The Caribbean Community (CARICOM) signed an agreement forming the Caribbean Court of Justice, with explicit jurisdiction over the interpretation of the CARICOM Treaty.
There has been great constitutional debate over whether the CCJ should become the final court of appeal for Jamaican law, replacing the Privy Council as the appellate court. Whilst a change of this magnitude would require amendment of Jamaica’s constitution, it seems likely that the CCJ will one day be the final court of appeal for the Jamaican jurisdiction – although the Privy Council decisions made previously will still carry authority.