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A Brief History of the Court

THE COURT OF APPEAL OF JAMAICA

The Court of Appeal was established by the Constitution of Jamaica when the country gained its political independence from Britain on August 6, 1962.  It, therefore, like Jamaica, celebrates its 60th anniversary on August 6, 2022. The court’s structure and jurisdiction were, however, crafted by a law that was passed on 30 July 1962 and brought into effect on 5th August that year, one day before Independence Day. The legislation regulating the court’s authority and jurisdiction is now called the Judicature (Appellate Jurisdiction) Act, which will be referred to below as ‘the Act’.  

The court succeeded a previous Court of Appeal.  The previous court was, however, a part of the Supreme Court of Judicature of Jamaica.  The former Court of Appeal was brought into effect by the Judicature (Court of Appeal) Law which was passed in 1935 and remained in effect, with amendments, until its repeal by the Act. Immediately before the change in 1962, an appellate tribunal was constituted by three judges of the Supreme Court sitting as a panel.

The present court has no inherent jurisdiction.  It derives its authority from the Constitution of Jamaica and from its enabling legislation, which also gives it all the powers that the previous court enjoyed.  It hears appeals from all divisions of the Supreme Court of Judicature of Jamaica as well as all Parish Courts.  There is also provision for appeals directly to the court from the decisions of certain bodies, such as Courts Martials and regulatory bodies such as the General Legal Council and the Public Accountancy Board.

The court also has the benefit of the Court of Appeal Rules, for directing its procedure. The original set of appeal rules, which was created in 1962, was replaced in 2002; at the same time that the Civil Procedure Rules were promulgated.

Despite the statement, that the court has no inherent jurisdiction, it does have the jurisdiction to control its own processes. It may therefore make orders and give directions, which may not strictly be defined by the Act or the Court of Appeal Rules. That point was made in the court’s judgment in Paul Chen-Young and others v Eagle Merchant Bank Jamaica Limited [2018] JMCA App 7 (paras. [37]-[41]).

Judges

In 1962, and remains so today, the qualification to be a judge of the court is 10 years’ standing at the Bar of Jamaica, England, Scotland or Northern Ireland, or to have been a judge of a court of unlimited jurisdiction in civil and criminal matters in some part of the Commonwealth, or a court having jurisdiction in appeals from any such court.

The court, when it was established in 1962, comprised a President and three judges of appeal.  In addition, the Chief Justice was, and continues to be qualified, by virtue of being the head of the judiciary, to sit as a member of the court.  That may only occur, however, if the Chief Justice is invited, by the President, to so sit, and if at least four other judges of appeal are also sitting as part of the court. That has, so far, only happened on ceremonial occasions.

In 1967, the number of judges comprising the court, not including the President, was increased to six.  That complement of seven remained unchanged for over 50 years.  In 2008, legislation was passed to increase, to 12, the maximum number of judges of appeal, not including the President.  Due to constraints of accommodation, however, the complement of seven was not increased until January 2019, when it was increased to 10, and the full complement of 13 was fulfilled for the first time on Monday, 18 January 2021.

A panel at the Court of Appeal usually consists of three judges. In exceptional cases, more judges of appeal, typically five, may sit to hear a case. Two divisions of the court usually sit to hear cases.

The staff

In addition to the judges, the court has a staff of 49 persons, including the Registrar, the Deputy Registrar and 14 other attorneys-at-law. Thirteen of the attorneys-at-law perform the services of judicial clerks to the judges of the court. The fourteenth assists the Registrar in the administration of the registry.

Location

When the new court was constituted in 1962, it continued to be located in the same building that houses the Supreme Court and, as time progressed, occupied various areas there. In 1997, the court relocated across King Street, where it was sandwiched between the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Accountant General’s Department. In January 2019 it moved to its present location, which had been previously occupied by the Accountant General’s Department.

The entrance to the court’s registry is on Barry Street between King Street and Peter’s Lane. The courtrooms are on the first floor and the entrance to them is on King Street.

Highlights in history

There have been a number of notable events during the course of the court’s lifetime.  A few of these are:

  • A panel of five judges has presided on more than one occasion in significant criminal appeals.  Among those cases were the landmark cases of Noel Samuda v R (the Queen) ((unreported), Court of Appeal, Jamaica, Supreme Court Criminal Appeal No 134/1996, judgment delivered 18 December 1998), dealing with the constitutionality of a sentence of corporal punishment, and Peter Dougall v R (the Queen) [2011] JMCA Crim 13, dealing with the procedure involved in an application for the imposition of the death penalty.

 

  • So far, only one civil appeal has seen a panel of five judges presiding.  It is Clarke v The Bank of Nova Scotia Jamaica Limited [2013] JMCA App 9.  It dealt with the constitutionality of a procedural appeal being heard by a single judge of the court, as the 2002 Court of Appeal Rules had stipulated.

 

  • Traditionally the judges would wear black gowns for civil cases and scarlet robes for criminal cases.  In 1993, black gowns replaced the others and were worn for all cases. In 2013, the traditional black gowns were replaced by gowns which included all of the national colours. The judges of the court ceased wearing traditional bench wigs in December 2011.

 

  • The first female judge of appeal was the Hon Miss Justice Marjory Morgan.  She was appointed in 1988 and served until her retirement in 1995. Shortly after her appointment, the court issued a practice direction that counsel, in addressing Justice Morgan directly, should say “M’Lady” or “Your Ladyship” as appropriate. However, when addressing a panel which comprised her ladyship, counsel were directed to say, “Your Lordships”.

 

  • The first time an all-female panel sat in the court was on 3 May 2010.  It comprised Justices Harris, Phillips and McIntosh.  On 13 January 2014, there were, for the first time, more female than male judges on the court.  Justices Phillips, McIntosh, Lawrence-Beswick (Ag) and Mangatal (Ag) comprised the majority. Males have been in the minority since the cadre of judges was increased from seven in 2019.

 

  • There have been 12 Presidents (including the incumbent) of the court since 1962. They have all been males.

 

The Presidents since the inception of the court are:

The Hon Justice Joseph Leslie Cundall CMG    1962-1964

Sir Herbert Duffus                                        1964-1967

Sir Cyril Henriques                                        1967-1974

The Hon Justice Leacroft Robinson OJ         1976-1981*

The Hon Justice Edward Zacca OJ, PC        1981-1984

The Hon Justice Ira Rowe OJ                        1985-1993

The Hon Justice Carl Rattray OJ                    1993-1999

The Hon Justice Ian Forte OJ, CD                  1999-2005

The Hon Justice Paul Harrison OJ, CD           2005-2007

The Hon Justice Seymour Panton OJ, CD       2007-2016

The Hon Justice Dennis Morrison OJ, CD        2016-2020

The Hon Justice Patrick Brooks OJ, CD           2020 - present

 

*The Hon Justice Joseph Luckoo acted as President from 1974-1976

 

  • The court sat in three divisions for the first time in the Hilary term 2019, when it moved to its new location, which boasted three courtrooms.

 

  • The heading for judgments in appeals from convictions and sentences in criminal cases in the court, up to July 2008, took the format of “Regina v X”.  From that time, consistent with the fact that the convicted person was the appellant, the format was changed to “X v Regina”.

 

  • 2008 also brought about the beginning of the standardisation of the format of judgments of the court.  In January 2010 neutral citations were introduced for the judgments of the court.

 

  • The court sat for the first time outside of Kingston during the week of 9 December 2013.  The historic sitting took place at the Resident Magistrates’ Court at Lucea in the parish of Hanover. Sittings have taken place every year since that time up to 2020 (when it was halted because of the COVID-19 pandemic), and in some years there was more than one sitting. All were in Lucea.

 

  • The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, forced the court to cease in-person hearings as its standard procedure. Sittings have since had to be conducted on an electronic platform, with the parties and counsel attending the court virtually, while the judges sat in court attended only by court personnel.

 

The future

The court is committed to supporting the initiative of the Judiciary led by the Chief Justice. That initiative has as its vision, to be the best in the Caribbean and one of the best in the world in short order. To this end, the court has been engaged in crafting and executing a strategic plan to improve its efficiency.

The court’s vision is to be a world-class appellate court serving all stakeholders with excellence.

Its mission statement is: to serve all stakeholders with integrity and fairness by delivering sound, timely judgments and efficient accessible court services, in a healthy fulfilling work environment.

It will strive to achieve these goals.