Judge: System grinding to a halt
by HEATHER-LYNN EVANSONTHE ISLAND’S HIGH COURTS are being “held to ransom” by accused and by some defence lawyers, a High Court judge said yesterday.It is because of them, said Justice Elneth Kentish, that her court had only been able to do one case since her stint began on June 11.“I understand that counsel have to make a living but the courts have to function and the courtsc annot be held to ransom and this is what is happening,” the judge said. “The courts are being held to ransom by accused persons and by lawyers for accused persons. They are running the show,” she declared.In fact, the judge feels the Sessions in her court have all but “ground to a halt”.“There was a time in this country,” said Justice Kentish, “when the Assizes took precedent over everything and over every commitment that a lawyer had.“He didn’t come or she didn’t come to court and say I cannot come to court on this date or that this date was not convenient. They were here. “I do not know what has transpired or what has changed that culture but the culture we are at now is where this system is grinding to a halt.”“In fact,” the judge said, “in the past few days, in this court, this system has ground to a halt.”Justice Kentish was yesterday expressing her displeasure after a number of accused appeared before her and offered a range of excuses as to why they were not ready for trial.One man said he had given his depositions to now Minister of Housing Michael Lashley at the time when Lashley was a defence counsel. He said he has not looked for another lawyer since Lashley took up office and did not know if he still had the papers.Another accused said he “now had to make an appointment to see a lawyer” even though he had been told, at the last Plea and Directions Hearing, that his matter would be called in July.A third, who is on remand awaiting trial for aggravated burglary and rape, confessed his attorney was not aware of the matter because he had not called him.The judge said since she had taken over the No. 5 Supreme Court on June 11, the court had done one trial.“Why have I done one case in that period?” she asked.“Largely because accused people have not been coming to court or, if they come to court they have counsel who is unavailable or because we cannot find some of the accused people or for all the reasons that are not reasons,” she said. Justice Kentish further noted that there was a time when lawyers who were working at the Assizes understood they were available at short notice and she said maybe the time had come for counsel to explain to some accused that they could do so much and no more.“We cannot have a system where accused persons are selecting one of four lawyers or one of three lawyers and then coming to court and saying their lawyer said he/she cannot come to court because they are in another court,” the judge told those present.Justice Kentish added that “the business of a judge sitting and telling a jury that there was no work” would not be happening in her court.She further issued a warning to accused that they were no longer running the show.