One of my activities for the celebration of Jamaica’s 50th Anniversary is a series of Parish Tours designed to allow my closer interaction with a wide cross-section of Jamaicans. This tour of Kingston, a parish which I can claim to know very well, is the last in the series. Kingstonians will no doubt say as Custos Fuller has done, that I have saved the best for last. The truth is I wanted to tour those parishes closest to King’s House towards the end of the year. I also thought it fitting that the tour of Kingston take place during the month when City Kingston marks its 140th anniversary as the capital of Jamaica.
Custos Fuller and his efficient team arranged an excellent programme for today’s tour. I want to thank them for the planning and preparation which allowed visits to two educational institutions; Port Royal where I had an opportunity to interact with the Coast Guard and residents of that historic community; a working lunch with a range of City leaders and a tour of one of the oldest newspapers in the Western Hemisphere, the Gleaner Company Limited. Now, the high point of my day is my meeting with you, the Justices of the Peace from the length and breadth of this parish.
This is my first opportunity to address a good number of you who were appointed recently. Let me therefore welcome you on board and also thank you for committing your time and skills and often, your resources, in the service of this parish and its people. No doubt as new JPs you have carefully read all the documentation outlining your role and responsibilities.
Together with your more seasoned colleagues, you would also have monitored statements by Cabinet members about plans for enhancing the role of JPs. You would have heard mention of plans for specific training to broaden the scope of your participation in the justice system. I understand that for many of you, this is a particularly attractive feature of the enhanced role.
Currently, a relatively small number of JPs are enlisted for conducting petty sessions. This is expected to change once the relevant policy is approved and the attendant regulations promulgated. In compliance with recommendations of the Justice System Reform Task Force, JPs will be prepared to preside over petty sessions which will receive minor cases which are still being heard by Resident Magistrates. This will greatly ease the burden on the RMs and allow speedier, more efficient dispensation of justice.
Actually, what this means is that Jamaica is catching up with a number of other Commonwealth countries and the USA where a significant role of the JP is precisely the conduct of petty sessions. In the United Kingdom, for example, where the designation of Justices of the Peace started in the fourteenth century, the role has evolved. Now, JPs, referred to as Magistrates, are required to serve a minimum of twenty six half-day sessions per year in the Petty Courts. They are not required to have done law prior to appointment, but Magistrates are subsequently trained in basic law. However, they are always assisted by experienced Clerks of Court.
As we await the completion of the necessary procedures in Jamaica, there are still several ways in which JPs can support the cause of peace and justice in our communities. Mentoring young people, especially the at-risk youth, working to prevent recidivism, visiting lock-ups and prisons are all functions which you should be performing. Being a JP is more than the authentication of documents and ceremonial activities, as you are all aware. Being a JP cannot be coveted as a mere status symbol.
In our society, where civility is being eroded, where dialogue too often yields to altercations and even deadly violence, JPs have got to see yourselves as agents of peace. This requires being more involved in your communities, winning the trust of the people so that they will communicate with you. Is there a role for the JP in dispute resolution, especially within families? I firmly believe there is. Is there a role for the JP in the efforts to restore peace and love in schools, in building self esteem and self confidence among young people of your communities, in fearlessly promoting positive values and attitudes? I firmly believe there is. I also am convinced that you have a role in the socialization of our communities to promote the protection of our children, boys as well as girls, from all forms of abuse. You must be part of the determined action which Jamaica has to take to stem the wave of abuse and vicious attacks against women.
Regrettably, for many people at home and abroad, Kingston Jamaica is synonymous with crime and violence. This is a profile which must be changed. It is erroneous to expect that central or local government can by themselves bring about the desired change. Nor should we merely lament in verandah conversations and power breakfasts the failures or shortcomings of relevant authorities, the private sector, the church, the media or any other group but ourselves. The desired change will only occur:
- when each of us decides that making Kingston the capital of which we can be proud, is our business;
- when we make integrity, hard work and the quest for excellence in service the hallmark of our city;
- when communities come together to fight against the insidious messages of the new norm which threatens our traditional values;
- when citizens like yourselves commit to making a difference in the lives of others, so that our city, indeed, our Jamaica, will be a better place;
- when we build partnerships across all sectors to secure the restoration of Kingston.
Yes, I am passionate about Jamaica and the change which each of us must work to achieve. You have heard me reaffirm that there is nothing wrong with Jamaica that cannot be fixed by what is right with Jamaica. Right now, there are many groups which are quietly doing their part to fix what is wrong. There are business persons who without fanfare are supporting projects and programmes to uplift our people. There are Diaspora groups which contribute to projects for the wellbeing of their compatriots at home. There are ordinary citizens who invest of their time, volunteering to bring healing or other form of improvement in the lives of others.
We can fix what is wrong with Jamaica. I believe that we have the capacity to design and implement solutions to the problems which confront us. I believe in the inherent creative genius of Jamaicans and that when this is channeled effectively, we shall be well on our way to achieving the targets of Vision 2030. I believe that a cohort of committed Jamaicans spread right across this land can help to galvanize our people to internalize our National Pledge and be inspired and influenced by our National Anthem. That cohort can be the Justices of the Peace beginning with you, right here in Kingston.
I thank you!