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Jurors, witnesses must cooperate to fix case backlog- judge

Published:Thursday | January 8, 2015 | 1:00 AMBarbara Gayle

The problems affecting the justice system, which have resulted in a backlog of more than 500 cases in the Home Circuit Court, were yesterday highlighted during the opening of the new session.

Justice Lloyd Hibbert stressed that for there to be a significant dent in the backlog of cases, there must be cooperation from jurors and witnesses.

Hibbert spoke of the numerous times when cases had to be put off because of insufficient jurors. He noted that citizens shunned jury duty for various reasons but warned that without a proper justice system there would be anarchy and chaos in the country.

He also lashed out at the police who fail to have cases properly investigated, arguing that that often leads to cases being adjourned for law enforcement to get additional statements.

Hibbert stressed that all the statements should be collected before a case reaches the Resident Magistrate's Court.

Disparity in sentences

In response to complaints of disparity in sentences for similar offences, Hibbert said sentencing guidelines were almost complete. He said if accused persons knew in advance what sentences they would get if they plead guilty, then matters would be shortened.

In response, attorneys-at-law Peter Champagnie and Gladstone Wilson said they welcomed the news of the pending sentencing guidelines.

They acknowledged that many accused persons express reservations about pleading guilty because of the uncertainty in sentencing.

Champagnie said he was looking forward to various amendments to the law, including the Evidence Act, for testimony to be given via video link in criminal trials.

He said the amendments would help to reduce the backlog.

Senior Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions Lisa Palmer Hamilton said "with crime being so dynamic and on the increase it makes our task an onerous one".

She pointed out that, in comparison to 2013, there was a 17 per cent decrease in the cases disposed of last year because of the chikungunya virus.

She said the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions was committed to the reform and enhancement of the justice system.

There are 510 cases listed for trial during this term, of which 484 were traversed from the previous term.

There are 342 murder cases and 89 sexual offence cases on the list. Last term 67 cases were disposed of from a list of 551 cases, the other cases were traversed to this term which has 26 new cases.

barbara.gayle@gleanerjm.com