Thu | Oct 18, 2018

Editorial | Action on court delays

Published:Saturday | April 21, 2018 | 12:00 AM

Words uttered by Chief Justice Bryan Sykes suggest the promising emergence of a transformative shift in the way business will be conducted in the nation's courts.

If Mr Sykes has his way, inordinate delays in getting cases to trial and delivering judgments that have gone for too long must end. Under his watch, multiple adjournments will not be tolerated and there will be an established ceiling of six months within which Court of Appeal judgments must be delivered.

With less than a 15 per cent disposal rate of court cases, the cumulative effect of this backlog has been undermining the delivery of justice to Jamaicans for decades.

It is these delays that are so prevalent in Jamaica's criminal justice system that render the constitutional guarantee of a fair trial within reasonable time unattainable for the majority of persons. Indeed, even a just judgment is diminished in value if it takes too long to be delivered.

For victims, witnesses and accused persons, multiple adjournments and fruitless court appearances impose additional emotional and financial stress. The weight of this stress falls all too heavily on the shoulders of the poorest in society.

For there to be marked improvement, immediate action is required not only from judges but at all levels and branches of personnel in the justice system. It means police investigators, forensic experts, pathologists, lawyers, potential jurors and prosecutors must all come together in a collaborative effort to shorten the time between arrests and the disposal of cases.

We note the introduction of Sentence Reduction Days in 2017, which enabled accused persons to enter guilty pleas and benefit from a maximum 50 per cent reduction in his/her sentence. In two days in October, this initiative resulted in the disposal of 57 cases. We believe with such impressive results, this initiative should be widely embraced by the justice system.

Using technology to deliver efficient case-flow management and modernise court proceedings are ongoing processes. News reports indicate that friendly governments are closely involved in efforts to reform the justice system and speed up criminal procedures. For example, the donation of digital audio-recording and video-link equipment from the European Union should go a long way in ensuring that crucial evidence can be given from witnesses in remote locations and that there is a reduction in the note-taking process.

 

GOVERNMENT RESPONSIBILITY

 

It is, though, the ultimate responsibility of Government to invest in solutions to make the justice system more efficient and fair. It is also Government's responsibility to ensure that the judiciary has an efficient working environment from which to dispense justice. Judges sit for hours, and they should be afforded the requisite level of comfort. Remuneration and benefits for judges and court staff have to be part of the conversation as well.

We note that additional courtrooms have been made available and more judges are being appointed. We are still not near the required complement of staff. More is needed to expand court capacity and make judicial appointments and it cannot happen fast enough to restore confidence in the system for the judicial process must at once be a shield and a sword in defending the rights of citizens when injustice afflicts them.

We have a profound wish for Justice Sykes to be successful in this transformation, for a sense of confidence in the courts is essential to maintain the fabric of our democratic society.

The old, but wise saying 'Justice delayed is justice denied' demands the delivery of excellent service and qualitative justice to the public.