As I join in the observance of this special time set aside for the recognition of women judges, I am compelled to reflect on the journey of women judges in Jamaica, especially over the last 60 years of the country's independence from colonial rule. I have chosen to do so too against the background of the utterances of a senior male attorney-at-law, who, in or around the year 2000 - at the turn of the 21st century - remarked that women do not belong on the bench but rather at home in the kitchen. That comment evoked no response from me then because it was palpably clear that the speaker was stuck in the past with the backward perspective that rendered him utterly oblivious to the dawning of a new day for the judiciary of Jamaica. By then, more and more young women had started populating the bench in unprecedented numbers. I was one of them.
Diverse judiciaries produce better justice. Diversity enhances judicial thinking and perspective. Diverse judges alter the judicial discourse. Diversity and inclusivity permit interaction and discussion among colleagues who have different backgrounds, life experiences, and viewpoints. Diverse judges challenge and enhance one another's perspectives.
Inclusivity and diversity inspire and maintain public confidence in the judiciary. Public confidence is fragile. Diversity and inclusivity inspire confidence in the justice system by demonstrating a commitment to independence and impartiality. Representativeness and building trust in the judiciary is about ensuring that the public, including members of the society belonging to minority groups, see themselves reflected in the judiciary.
The COVID-19 pandemic is causing widespread detrimental effects on mental health and quality of life. It continues to deliver sudden change, uncertainty and stress. Individuals across the globe experienced considerable impacts on their lifestyles and well-being. Recent reports have suggested a rising mental health crisis with significant increase in several mental health problems such as depression and anxiety.
The term well-being encompasses both personal wellness and professional wellness, including job satisfaction, engagement and reduced burnout. It is closely linked to quality of life as a broad term comprising domains of physical health, psychological state, social relationships and environment.
Virtual means offer alternative solutions to direct, personal contact when it is not possible, especially nowadays given the conditions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic. At the same time, there is the risk that the apparent advantage of virtual systems may create a false sense of effective communication. Virtual media, which was originally an exceptional and transitory instrument for the administration of justice, may become the general rule. As a consequence, this could lead to a depersonalization of the parties in a trial and a dehumanization of the trial itself.
Therefore, the right question is whether it is appropriate to continue to use virtual platforms in court proceedings in the "new normal" after the pandemic. Furthermore, we need to consider whether it is ethical to deliver judgements electronically, without personal contact and at a distance, and if so, how this form of remote justice is compatible with the Bangalore Principles of Judicial Conduct.
No industry, sector, or profession is immune to misconduct. And while the vast majority of judges, prosecutors, lawyers, and other legal professionals are law-abiding and honest, some are not. Unfortunately, those exceptions can often threaten the integrity and the perception of the judicial system as a whole and undermine the public's trust in it.
Few things can be more destabilizing than corruption of and in the judicial system, including its damaging consequences to ordinary citizens and the insidiousness with which it can taint the highest levels of power. Judicial corruption undermines public confidence in the judicial system, in particular, and in public institutions, more broadly, and operates as a gateway or free-pass for other types of wrongdoing. That is precisely why judicial integrity is a common goal across all jurisdictions and has been among the priorities of the International Bar Association (IBA) in recent years.