Tread cautiously with five-year cases, warns DPP
Nearly a quarter of the more than 500 cases before the Home Circuit Court could be tossed out if a call by Justice Minister Delroy Chuck for judges to dismiss criminal cases that have been in the system for a minimum of five years is heeded.
There were 522 cases on the court list at the start of the Hilary term in January, and, according to Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Paula Llewellyn, 127 of them are five years or older - all murder cases.
Llewellyn, who was speaking at the start of the Easter term yesterday, said 96 of these cases are down for trial during this term and that her office is ready to proceed with 51.
Her disclosure comes days after Chuck called for judges to dismiss cases that have been before the courts for five years or more by the end of this year.
The minister argued that the cases should be dismissed unless there are reasonable grounds to continue with the prosecution, suggesting that it was unfair for an accused person to go to court for five years hoping to prove his innocence.
It was one of several measures that are aimed at reducing the huge backlog of cases that have swamped the judicial system.
According to Llewellyn, 526 cases are on the Circuit Court list for this Easter term. That number includes the 504 cases that were rolled over from the previous term, 328 of which were for murder.
However, while acknowledging the need to clear the backlog stifling the judicial system, Llewellyn warned of the dangers of implementing an "absolute rule" that cases be dismissed after a minimum of five years before the court.
"If you are going to have a five-year limit, the system would be open to abuse, manoeuvring, and contrivance, where one side could seek to play musical chairs with the system," she warned.
Citing as an example an accused person who has been charged with murder and released on bail, she questioned:
"He is held after three years [on the run]. Let's say it takes another two years to round up the witnesses, are you saying he should not be tried again?"
Noting that the circumstances of a petty session case are different from those of a murder case, the DPP cautioned that each case must be assessed on its own merit.