New court for old cases - Chief justice takes step to clear up backlog
The Hilary session of the Home Circuit Court opened yesterday with Chief Justice Zaila McCalla announcing drastic measures to reduce the huge backlog of cases which has been plaguing the justice system for decades.
One of the measures is for cases on the court list for more than five years to be sent to a special court. The cases will be mentioned on Wednesdays between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m., and the chief justice stressed that they must remain on the list until they are disposed of or are ready for trial.
The Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions said yesterday that 49 cases have been on the Home Circuit Court list for five years and more.
McCalla said the old cases must get priority on the trial list, and two judges will be assigned to monitor the mention list.
FEW DISPOSED OF LAST TERM
Last term, only 72 of the 578 cases on the court list were disposed of. The remaining 506 cases were traversed to this term, which has 16 new cases. There are 340 murder cases and 129 sexual-offence cases on the Home Circuit Court list.
Justice Minister Mark Golding commended the chief justice for the step she has taken to dispose of the old cases cluttering the court list. He said she is being innovative and proactive in implementing mechanisms to dispose of older cases.
The minister said there were instances in which witnesses were not available, and such a move meant cases on the list which were not going anywhere would be weeded out and viable prosecutions mounted in those cases which are ready.
"This move is a very good thing and it shows that special focus is being placed on the old cases on the court list," the minister said.
The director of public prose-cutions (DPP), Paula Llewellyn, said she has not been officially informed of the new measure, but she is happy with the chief justice's decision to implement new measures to reduce the backlog.
"We will do as we always do within the context of available resources within the department," she said.
However, Llewellyn added: "The big elephant in the room is the lack of capacity of courtroom stock.
"The justice system has been like Cinderella, but without any hope of finding a prince," the DPP said as she bemoaned the lack of capital spending in the area of justice.
She said a trial was not like the Law & Order series on television, which lasts about half an hour. She said a trial usually lasts from one to four weeks - or even longer at times.
Llewellyn said, too, that over the last 30 years, there has been a drastic increase in criminal cases as the criminal caseload has tripled.
She said another problem was the complexity of the cases and the courtroom capacity has not increased, adding that there is the need for eight criminal courts at the Home Circuit Court, instead of the four that now exist.
The DPP said an additional courtroom was also needed in several other parishes to expedite trials. An increase in courtrooms meant that there would have to be additional judges, prosecutors and court staff.
The Office of the DPP is responsible for preparation of the court list, and Llewellyn said she had been weeding out old cases. She explained that on many occasions, she entered nolle prosequi in cases or put up cases before the court for the jury to enter formal verdicts of not guilty.
Llewellyn said there were usually three or more cases ready for trial weekly in each court, but only one case can proceed each time in each court.
"We have been getting old matters ready for trial, but the sheer volume of cases on the list and lack of courtroom facility, which has not been increased over the last 25 years, helped to hamper our ability to dispose of the cases that are ready," Llewellyn said.