Fri | Jan 20, 2017

New law contributes to court backlog

Published:Tuesday | January 10, 2017 | 12:00 AMLivern Barrett
Justice Carol Lawrence-Beswick (centre), Rion Hall (left), deputy custos of Kingston, and Patricia Dunwell, custos of St Andrew, take the salute during the opening of the Circuit Court, downtown Kingston yesterday.

The nation's chief prosecutor Paula Llewellyn has suggested that the legislation enacted to ease the backlog of cases clogging up the court system is instead contributing to the growing pile-up.

The Committal Proceedings Act, which came into effect in January last year, was enacted to reduce the length of time cases spend on court lists by abolishing the holding of a preliminary enquiry.

Instead, the legislation allows a parish judge to examine statements and exhibits in a case, and determine whether a prima facie case has been made out against an accused person.

As Circuit Courts reopened across the island yesterday for the Hilary term, Llewellyn, the director of public prosecutions (DPP), revealed that 620 cases are down for trial before the Home Circuit Court in Kingston.

She described the number of new cases as a tsunami and complained that it was "putting more burden on the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions.

"We will now have to assume superhuman status to deal with this," she said, in reference to lawyers, judges and other stakeholder groups.

With the Hilary term set to run for just over 100 days, President of the Jamaican Bar Association Sherry Ann McGregor calculated that six cases would have to be disposed of daily to erase the backlog in the Home Circuit Court alone.

 

IMPOSSIBLE TASK

 

"We are facing an impossible task if that is what we are hoping to achieve," McGregor said in her address at the opening of the Home Circuit Court.

High Court Judge Carol Lawrence-Beswick acknowledged that the Committal Proceedings Act has contributed to what she described as the influx of new cases before the circuit court, but pleaded for patience and cooperation among the various stakeholder groups.

"We recognise that the new system will have teething pains, as new systems generally do. But what is important in all of this is that we identify any weaknesses in procedure that may exist and work together to rectify them so that they can be resolved," Lawrence-Beswick pleaded.

livern.barrett@gleanerjm.com

 

800 per cent increase in new cases

 

- The 620 cases that are down for trial before the Home Circuit Court include 144 new cases that were transferred from the Kingston and St Andrew Parish Court in keeping with the Committal Proceedings Act and 476 cases that were traversed from the Michaelmas term, which ended last December.

- Figures released by the Director of Public Prosecutions' office show that the 144 transferred cases represent an increase of almost 800 per cent when compared with the 16 cases that were transferred from the parish court at the start of the Hilary term last year.

- In St Catherine, Paula Llewellyn said 150 new cases have been added to the 132 cases traversed from the last term, while St James saw 64 new cases added to the 126 that were traversed.

- A breakdown of the 620 cases set for trial in the Home Circuit Court this term show that 298 are for murder while 105 were for sexual offences.