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Trash old cases - Justice minister wants lingering legal disputes thrown out after two years

Published:Saturday | October 25, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Justice Minister Mark Golding

Daraine Luton, Senior Staff Reporter

Justice Minister Mark Golding has served noticed that cases which linger for too long in the courts will be thrown out. A new law is to be put in place to allow for these cases to be trashed after two years.

"The introduction of that statutory solution will entail, when the law is passed, it not coming into a period of time to allow persons to transition. Once that deadline is passed, there will be a presumption that a case in the RM court level that has not been tried within two years is to be dismissed," Golding said.

A submission, he said, has been prepared for the Cabinet to consider.

Marlene Malahoo Forte, an opposition senator, had questioned whether the Government is considering legislative intervention to "clear out very old cases" from the justice system.

She said that could be done after an assessment of the causes for the backlog has been done and if cases "meet certain criteria and are over an age limit whether a decision can be taken to have them cleared out of the system and we start afresh".

Golding said that Jamaicans, under the Constitution, are entitled to trial within a reasonable time. He disclosed that his ministry has been contemplating the use of the clear house system, beginning with summary offences in the Resident Magistrates' Court, which would see the introduction "of a time frame within which they must be tried or else they are dismissed".

"We have circulated a position paper on that. We have got feedback and we are now going to be moving that to Cabinet," the minister said.

LESS SERIOUS OFFENCES

Golding, who was speaking in the Senate, said the thinking is to start with the less serious offences to see whether the measure works "and if it works, well, we will move up from there".

The structure of the Jamaican judicial system is based on five basic tiers. The lowest tier is the Petty Sessions Court, next is the Resident Magistrates' Court, which has jurisdiction to try cases summarily as well as on indictment; the Supreme Court is the highest first instance court; the Court of Appeal is next on the hierarchy, and the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council sits at the summit.

Golding said that in addition to the utilisation of direct legislative measures to reduce the backlog, the revamp of the motor vehicle ticketing system is expected to significantly ease the problem of case overload in the courts.

"On the data we have, the vast majority of cases we have that have been in the system for more than two years are traffic cases and those will be disposed by way of that statutory solution I mentioned.

Plus, the new Road Traffic Act has provisions in it to encourage the payment of tickets outside of the courts system by way of essentially lower payments to settle tickets, and there is also no longer going to be a 30-day window for paying tickets outside of the courts. You can pay tickets on an ongoing basis at anytime before the matter is addressed by the court," Golding said.