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Introduction to studying law

Definition of Law
Law may be defined as a body of rules, created by the State, binding within its
jurisdiction and enforced with the authority of the State through the use of sanctions.
(Adams; Law for Business Students)

Breakdown of the definition:

- Rules: are commands regulating behaviour; rules tell us what we can and cannot do.

- Creation of law: Parliament is responsible for creating most laws and it may delegate its
law making responsibility to other bodies (delegated legislation). The courts also in
handing down judgments which are subsequently followed by other courts also create
laws, this is what called the doctrine of binding precedents. Rules are also meant to
regulate relationships.

- Jurisdiction: The law of any country is binding only within its territory.

- Enforcement: Laws are enforced by a relevant party initiating proceedings in a

competent court.

Classification of Law
There are various ways to classify law. One of these divisions is Criminal Law and Civil
Criminal Law
This area of the law focuses on certain acts of wrongdoings which are seen as offences
against the State and punishable by the State. Crime is defined as “an act of disobedience
of the law forbidden under pain of punishment.” 1 Anyone who is charged with a criminal
offence is presumed innocent until proven guilty The punishment upon being convicted
of a criminal offence can range from death, or imprisonment to a money penalty (fine),
community service or absolute discharge. Examples of business crimes are fraud, theft
and forgery.

The criminal charge is laid against the accused or defendant. The Case is brought by the
Crown through the Police whose duty as public servants is to prevent and detect crime
and prosecute offenders before the Courts of law.

Law Made Simple, Barker, D.L.A. (London 1988), p.3.

Civil Law
Civil law is that part of law that is concerned with the rights and duties of individuals
towards each other. It includes the following which are the major branches of civil law:

(1) Law of Contract

(2) Law of Tort
(3) Law of Property
(4) Law of succession and
(5) Family Law

The chief distinction between criminal law and civil law is that in civil law the legal
action is begun by the private citizen to establish rights against another citizen or groups
of citizens, whereas criminal law is enforced on behalf of or in the name of the State.

The aim of criminal law is to punish the offender, (hence the offender if found guilty may
be imprisoned or asked to pay a fine which goes to the State), whilst the aim of civil law
is to compensate the innocent party (hence the wrongdoer may be asked to pay damages
to the other party for loss suffered).

The main witness in a criminal case (save and except murder) who is usually the victim
of the crime is called the Complainant.

The person who initiates a claim in the civil court is called the Plaintiff or Claimant.
The person against whom the claim is commenced is called the Defendant.

Citation of Cases
Cases names look a lot like ‘football fixture lists’, example – James v Brown . A case in
the court is essentially a contest between two parties with the judge being the umpire. The
name of the case is usually underlined.

Where cases are determined by a court at first instance , that is heard for the first time, the
proceedings are cited as follows:

Civil Case
(a) James v. Brown
Criminal Case
(b) Regina (or R.) v. Green

If Brown and Green decide to appeal against the decision at (a) and (b), Brown and Green
are called the Appellants and James and Regina are known as the Respondents in the
appeal cases.

The Jamaican Legal System
Prior to 1962, Jamaica was a colony of Britain. In 1962 upon attaining Independence,
Jamaica through the Doctrine of Incorporation adopted into its Constitution the
Westminster Form of Parliamentary Democracy in England.

The Jamaican Government has three (3) branches which provide a system of checks and
balances to ensure that there is not an abuse of powers by any of these bodies. There is a
separation of powers and these branches are called the Executive, Legislative and Judicial

The Executive arm is responsible for running the Government.

The Legislature, commonly known as Parliament is where the laws (Statutes) are created.
This branch of government has two houses, the Upper House and the Lower House.
The Upper House is the Senate and compromises 21 Senators appointed by the Governor
General. Thirteen (13) members are appointed on the advice of the Prime Minister and
eight (8) on the advice of the Leader of the Opposition. The Lower House, which is
called the House of Representatives, is where the elected Members of Parliament sit.

The Judiciary is the branch of government that is primarily responsible for interpreting
the law.

The Jamaican Constitution is the Supreme Law of the land and all other laws must
conform with the Constitution or they will be struck down.1

The Structure of the Jamaican Court System2

The Courts have been given the duty under the Constitution to examine activities
undertaken by the State and determine if acts by the State through its various agents are
inconsistent with the Constitution and therefore of no legal effect. Acts of Parliament are
also subject to review by the Courts to see if there is any inconsistency with the

The Constitution of Jamaica provides for the establishment of the Supreme Court as a
Court of Origination. Decisions of the Supreme Court upon appeal are heard by the Court
of Appeal which is the highest Court physically located in Jamaica, however under the
Constitution, the highest Court in the Jamaican Court Structure and the final Court of
Appeal from decisions of the Court of Appeal is the Judicial Committee of the Privy
Council which is based in England.

(Jamaica Constitution. S.2.)
See the Ministry of Justice website

There are other Courts that are not created by the Constitution and have been created by
Acts of Parliament.

The Court System is looked at below.

Petty Session
The Petty Session Court is presided over by three Justices of the Peace. These are not
Attorneys-at-Law. They preside over petty matters. These include pickpocketting,
common assault and use of indecent language. The Justices of the Peace Jurisdiction Act
confer various powers on the Justice of the Peace including the power to issue warrants
consequent on non-obedience to summons. The Clerk of Courts or a deputy clerk advises
the justices on points of law and procedure.

Resident Magistrate’s Court

The jurisdiction of this Court is defined by Statute, The Judicature (Resident
Magistrate’s) Act. The Resident Magistrate’s Court’s Jurisdiction is limited in both civil
and criminal matters. The amounts and the extent of the jurisdiction of this court is
provided for in the Judicature (Resident Magistrate’s) Act. A Resident Magistrate’s Court
is situated in every Parish and it has jurisdiction within that Parish and one mile beyond
its boundary line.

There are specialized courts which are divisions of the Resident Magistrate’s Court.
These include the Family Court, the Juvenile Court, the Traffic Court, Gun Court, Small
Claims Court, the Drug Court and the Night Court.

Civil matters such as recovery of rent, recovery of possession and debt collection of sums
up to $250,000.00 per claim are tried at a Resident Magistrate’s Court. With regards to
criminal offences, the Court has no jurisdiction to hold a trial for murder, treason and
rape. What is held at the Resident Magistrate Court in such cases is a Preliminary
Examination or enquiry into the charge. In this enquiry, the purpose is to determine
whether the evidence is sufficient for the defendant/accused to stand trial at the Supreme
Court. In other words, has a prima facie case been established by the Crown against the
Accused? If the Resident Magistrate finds that a prima facie case has been established
then the matter is sent for trial to the Supreme Court to determine whether the
defendant/accused is guilty or not guilty.

The Resident Magistrate must be an Attorney-at-law of at least five years standing.

Resident Magistrates are appointed by the Governor General and the Judicial Services

The Supreme Court

Judges of the Supreme Court are appointed by the Governor General on the
recommendation of the Judicial Services Commission. The Supreme Court has unlimited

jurisdiction in civil and criminal matters. The head of the Supreme Court is called the
Chief Justice. The Supreme Court consists of the Chief Justice, a Senior Puisne Judge and
at least twenty other Puisne Judges. They have jurisdiction to hear applications regarding
breaches of fundamental rights and freedom as provided for under the Constitution.

Three divisions of the Supreme Court are the Revenue Court established in 1971 and the
Gun Court established in 1974 and the Commercial Court in February 2001. There has
also been established a Western Regional Gun Court that hears gun offences committed
in the parishes of St. James, Trelawny, Westmoreland and Hanover.

Criminal offences committed in other parishes are heard at the sitting of the Circuit Court
of that parish. The Circuit Court is the criminal jurisdiction of the Supreme Court that is
convened in Parishes. The Supreme Court Judge travels to the parish for the hearing of
criminal offences that were committed in that parish. One of the advantages in having a
travelling court or Circuit court is the fact that if the witnesses and other parties involved
are from the parish where the offence was committed, they do not need to travel to
Kingston for the prosecution of cases. This is convenient and reduces expenses for these

The Circuit Court held for the parishes of Kingston and St. Andrew is called the Home
Circuit Court, while that which is convened in the other Parishes are named after the
respective Parish, for example, the St. Ann Circuit Court .

Puisne Judges must be Attorneys-at-law of at least ten years standing.

The Court of Appeal

Appeals against decisions from both the Supreme Court and the Resident Magistrate’s
Court are heard in the Court of Appeal. The head of the Court of Appeal is the President.
The Court of Appeal consists of six Judges of Appeal. Three Judges of Appeal sit to hear
an appeal. Judges of the Court of Appeal are appointed by the Governor General on the
recommendation of the Judicial Services Commission.

The Chief Justice and the President of the Court of Appeal are appointed by the Governor
General on the recommendation of the Prime Minister after consultation with the Leader
of Opposition.

A Judge of the Court of Appeal must be an Attorney-at-law of at least ten years standing.

The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council

The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council is the Court of final appeal for Jamaica and
some other Commonwealth countries that have retained the appeal to Her Majesty in

Five judges normally sit to hear appeal cases from the Commonwealth.

The Judicial Committee sits in the Privy Council Chamber in Downing Street, London,

References to the various Judges.

Petty Sessions Court- Your Worship
Resident Magistrate’s Court-Your Honour
Supreme Court and above –Your Lordship/Ladyship

Legal Officers
(a) The Attorney-General
Section 79(1) of the Constitution of Jamaica provides that “there shall be an Attorney
General who shall be the principal legal adviser to the Government of Jamaica”
This is a political appointment. She is the principal legal adviser to the Government.
All civil proceedings by or against the Government are instituted in the name of

(b) The Director of Public Prosecutions

Section 94 (1) of the Constitution of Jamaica states that “there shall be a Director of
Public Prosecutions, whose office shall be a public office”. She is appointed by the
Judicial Services Commission on the advice of the Prime Minister. She is responsible for
the Crown Prosecution Services. The Director must be an Attorney-at-Law of at least
ten(10) years standing.

(c)The Solicitor-General
He and his staff represents the Crown in the Courts in civil matters where the public
interest is concerned. He also advises the Government departments on important legal
matters. He is appointed by the Governor General in accordance with the advice of the
Judicial Services Commission.

“Arbitration is the reference of a matter in dispute to one or more persons called
Arbitration is used as an alternative proceeding to litigation. In commercial matters,
parties often include a clause for arbitration in the event of disagreement between the
parties and a clause is often incorporated in partnership agreements should disputes occur
among partners.

The contract may include a clause for a sole arbitrator or two arbitrators. An arbitrator
does not necessarily have to be a legally trained person, although this is recommended.

Padfield, C. F. Law Made Simple

The advantages of arbitration are:
1. Speedy settlement of the matter: Litigation in the Courts can result in lengthy
delays before there is a trial.
2. Privacy: A Court room is a public place. Parties to a dispute may wish not to have
their personal or private matters disclosed in that environment neither may they
want confidential commercial matters heard in open court.
3. Expenses may be less as the time is shorter than if the matter went to Court.
4. Expert Knowledge : The arbitrator may be an expert in the field of the matter
which is disputed. Generally, the disputes are disputes of fact and not of law so
the need for a legal mind may be secondary in resolving same.
5. Convenience: The arbitration is held at a place and time convenient to the parties
and the arbitrators.

The disadvantages are said to be:

1. Where there are difficult points of law to be determined, an arbitrator may not
have the requisite expertise
2. Each case is decided on its merits so the doctrine of precedent does not apply.