Tue | Sep 26, 2017

Editorial: Those old court cases

Published:Saturday | January 9, 2016 | 1:00 AM
Chief Justice Zaila McCalla has turned her attention to the staggering backlog that has been clogging the court system for decades.

Finally, Chief Justice Zaila McCalla has turned her attention to the staggering backlog that has been clogging the court system for decades. This malady of failing to meet the fundamentals of criminal justice has gone on for too long.

According to a report in this newspaper, Mrs McCalla's announcement that priority will be given to cases five years and older in a special court with the oversight of two additional judges earned her plaudits from Justice Minister Mark Golding.

It's a major point in her favour that the chief justice is belatedly making a move to address the situation. Yet, we believe some will be sceptical about these efforts because they fully understand that there are a multitude of problems besetting the justice system, and to fix them will require big budgetary support and additional human resources.

It is reported that there are 49 cases that have been languishing on the Home Circuit Court list for five years or more, and while it is commendable to try to deal with these cases, we must also bear in mind that more than 500 cases were traversed from last term. The truth is that cases get piled on to the list at the end of each term, and this is very disturbing.

The clutter of cases emanates from factors such as an inadequate number of prosecutors, which results in overworked prosecutors with heavy caseloads, reluctance of witnesses (including police personnel) to attend court, absence, and sometimes delaying tactics of defence counsel, difficulty in finding persons to serve as jurors, insufficient courtrooms, lack of expert witnesses, and shoddy police investigations.

It is difficult to see how Mrs McCalla's plan will succeed if, according to our report, director of public prosecutions, (DPP) Paula Llewellyn, has not been "formally" advised of the new measures to be implemented. Does this mean Miss Llewellyn, whose office has the responsibility for preparing case files for criminal prosecution, was not part of these discussions?

Because of underfunding, the tottering justice system has exposed citizens of the country to grave risk. For instance, Ms Llewellyn explained that criminal cases have tripled over the last 30 years and they have become more complex. She also noted that additional courtrooms are needed so that more cases can be tried more quickly. Regular news reports of shortcomings in the criminal-justice system have laid bare a system of neglect. It will take financial commitment, great ingenuity, and creative thinking to fix it.

This is how the DPP summed up these shortcomings: "The justice system is like Cinderella, but without any hope of finding a prince."

Policymakers ought to take a step back and reflect on the damage that is being done to the justice system. While we acknowledge that we face a fiscal crisis that demands we reduce the country's deficit, ways have to be found to make the justice system the priority topic that it needs to be in order to prevent the country from falling into chaos..