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RURAL EXPRESS - Attorney laments case overload, calls for extension of court session

Published:Saturday | November 8, 2014 | 12:00 AM
The Black River Resident's Magistrate Court, which hosts the St Elizabeth Circuit Court. - File

Launtia Cuff, Gleaner Writer

BLACK RIVER, St Elizabeth:

AT LEAST one attorney-at-law wants an extension to the Hilary session of the St Elizabeth Circuit Court because of the lengthy list of Circuit and Gun Court matters.

The session, which was opened on November 3, will run for three weeks ending November 21.

At the opening of the circuit, which is being presided by Justice Caren Lawrence Beswick, counsel for the Crown, assistant director of public prosecutions Sasha-Marie Smith said this session had 94 cases listed - 56 cases for the Circuit and 38 for the Gun Court.

Smith said although the list was a daunting one, she believed a sizeable dent could be made.

Queen's Counsel Velma Hylton said while there was once a time when three weeks could suffice, with an increase in the number of matters appearing on the list, an extension should be considered.

BALACLAVA COURTHOUSE USE

Hylton suggested that a way to put an even greater dent in the number of cases before the court was to consider using the Balaclava courthouse for the Gun Court. She says while the courthouse was one of the best in the island, it was greatly underutilised.

The courthouse in Balaclava is operated only four days per month. The building that houses the Balaclava courthouse was completed at an approximate cost of $60 million.

Construction began in 2005 after the previous building, which was an old post office, had been deemed unfit for use. The building was completed in March 2010; however, it still remained unused until it was officially opened in May 2012.

Hylton told the court that it was her view that if the courthouse were to be properly utilised, it could help ensure justice is served more swiftly.

LENGTHY TRIALS

She spoke of the lengthy periods of time that cases languish before the courts before justice can be served. Making reference to a 2004 matter that is now before the court, she said, in such cases, the complainants and witnesses are likely to lose interest and after lengthy periods of time, there are lapses in memory.

She also added that the burden was heavy for lawyers in St Elizabeth where legal aid assignments were concerned and suggested that additional lawyers could be used from elsewhere to help deal with the case load in the parish.

Hylton also expressed concerns for breaches of the Bail Act by the police. According to the Bail Act, "a person who is charged with an offence shall not be held in custody for longer than 24 hours without the question of bail being considered." However, Hylton said at times, prisoners were held in custody for sometimes up to two weeks before appearing in court.

Lawrence Beswick said she would make formal representation of the Queen's Counsel's concerns to Chief Justice Zaila McCalla.

She said for her time in the parish, it was her intention to let the system work so that justice could be served.

rural@gleanerjm.com