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A Brief History of the Court


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, celebrated its 50th anniversary on August 6, 2012.

The court succeeded a previous Court of Appeal.  The previous court was, however, a part of the Supreme Court of Judicature of Jamaica.  Before 1962, an appellate tribunal was constituted by three judges of the Supreme Court sitting as a panel.

The new 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 Resident Magistrates’ Courts.  There is also provision for appeals directly to the court from the decisions of certain bodies, such as the General Legal Council.

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 to so sit, and if at least four other judges of appeal are also sitting as part of the court.

In 1967, the number of judges comprising the court, in addition to the President, was increased to six.  That complement remained unchanged for almost 52 years.  In 2008, legislation was passed to increase, to 12, the maximum number of judges, in addition to the President, of which the court could consist. Constraints of accommodation prevented the use of that entitlement until January 2019, when, with a move to larger facilities, the number of judges was increased to 10. It is expected that the full quota will be achieved in the near future.

When the new court was constituted, it continued to be located on the same building that housed the Supreme Court and, as time progressed, occupied various areas on that building.  In 1997 the court relocated to its present location, which had been previously occupied by the Accountant General’s offices.

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

  • 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 (SCCA No 134/1996 (delivered 18 December 1998), dealing with the constitutionality of a sentence of corporal punishment, and Peter Dougall v R [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.
  • Traditionally the judges would wear black gowns for civil cases and scarlet robes for criminal cases.  Since 1993, however, black gowns have replaced the others and are 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.
  • The heading for judgments in appeals from convictions and sentence 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 and in some years there have been more than one sitting. All have been in Lucea.


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-present

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

During its lifetime the court has maintained a high standard in the quality of its judgments and strives to attain the objective of the judicial system of Jamaica “The timely delivery of a high standard of justice for all”.

Court of Appeal


August 2019