EDITORIAL: Documents weak link in chain
Recent comments about delays in the justice system, both at the Supreme Court Assizes and in the Magistrates’ Courts, are important contributions to the current debate because these comments have been made by the relevant presiding officers in the course of duty, and they shed light on some aspects of the delay.
One of the current Assize judges has repeatedly expressed concern from the Bench about the court’s inability to get on with the business of hearing cases. Delays of one kind or another have left both the court and jurors without trial-ready work for almost all of the Assizes. These delays are often inaccurately blamed on the courts.
Another judge has decided to investigate about 50 cases a day to determine which of these are ready for trial. The current Assize Courts have been ready to work are but not able to do so because of what seem now to be systemic problems producing many backlogged cases.
Recently too, District “A” Magistrate Douglas Frederick spoke out on inaction by the police on some cases that came before his court and enquired whether the delay was occasioned by lack of training or resources. He said it was unfair to the (police) prosecutor who would have requested the information to enable him to get on with presenting the case before the court.
Magistrate Frederick declared that the delays were stressful on the courts because they faced negative comments every day about the time it was taking to get cases through the system. He declared bluntly that it puts stress on the magistrates.
It is just as well that someone at the level of the magistrate has also spoken out because the majority of those who come into contact with the law do so through some connection with the lower courts.
Here too, and without knowing all the facts, some tongues have been wagging and placing blame where it ought not to be placed.
The case in hand saw that the magistrate was ready to start but was not able to do so because written statements which, by law, have to be provided to the defence were not available; and so the court could not start the case relating to a bodily harm incident that allegedly took place two years ago.
The prosecutor disclosed that one more statement was requested to complete the file and the request was among those he had submitted. In view of this statement we have to ask whether there is a blockage in the system that prevents the timely processing of court-related documents? If there is, then that blockage must be identified and cleared.
As Magistrate Frederick pointed out, it is not fair to an accused to have charges hanging over his head in this way since such a person cannot travel without permission of the court. He has to come to court every adjourned date and changing of jobs may be a problem. We need hardly point out that the complainant is also inconvenienced by the delay.
The issues are obviously exacerbated when we hear of accused persons remanded to Her Majesty’s Prisons Dodds for upwards of five years before trial takes place.
Clearly, the problem of delays in the criminal jurisdiction of the courts needs urgent attention, which it must have. We cannot allow the comments of our judges and magistrates to fall on stony ground.