CJ: Move to clear backlog of cases
NEW MEASURES are on the way to wipe the courts’ calendars clean of a backlog of cases and speed up the delivery of judgements.
This from Chief Justice Marston Gibson as he spoke at the opening of the Legal Year 2012 to 2013 in the Court of Appeal Monday.
Noting that the judiciary had been criticized by the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) for its tardiness in delivering decisions, Gibson said there were still 99 cases in the High Court pending from 1990 and 152 from 1991 “which have never been transitioned”.
He said those cases were found by “physically going into boxes”.“I suspect it will not get better but it will get worse,” he said, to the full sitting which included fellow judges, magistrates, lawyers from both sides of the Bar table and new jurors.
As a result, he said a backlog reduction and individual assignment committee had been established – chaired by Justice Maureen Crane-Scott – to reduce the backlog and deepen “the system of one case one judge”.
“It is planned that the court will send out notices to attorneys and litigants with regard to cases filed between January 1990 and October 2009 with the possibility that if no response is forthcoming, or if the attorney or litigant so indicates, that the matter will be dismissed or can be discontinued,”Gibson said.
“The remedy is that the practice direction proposed by the sub-committee will contain a provision which has held over the litigant the threat of dismissal.” Gibson stressed the idea was to “sift out” the inactive cases on the books.
He admitted the idea was not new and had been put forward by now retired Chief Justice Sir David Simmons, but had fizzled because of a lack of response from litigants and attorneys.
He also revealed the Court of Appeal had 362 undecided cases on its list, some dating as far back as 1993 and in which some of the lawyers had died.
The Chief Justice further said that in an effort to reduce its own backlog, the Court of Appeal would now sit at least three times weekly and a “responsible judge” named, whose duty would be to write or deliver the court’s decision.
Five new judicial assistants will also be employed to assist with research.“I have also indicated to the judges of both courts that I will ask for bi-monthly reports with a view to getting and keeping a handle on each judge’s inventory,” the Chief Justice said.
This, he added, was not intended to be paternalistic but “rather it is intended to render assistance to judges in cases where they become overwhelmed and over-saturated with cases”.
“This is my response to the recent spate of CCJ decisions which has required us to restrain ourselves from tardiness. We need to reduce the time for rendering decisions to a period measured in months and not in years.”
Turning to the Magistrates’ Courts, Gibson said they were in trouble with 21 663 cases being lodged in 2011.
He said he had heeded the cries by the magistrates for recording equipment to “relieve them of the task of taking evidence in long hand” and, as a result, had asked for the cost of providing “For the Record” digital systems for the 11 courts.