Sat | Mar 23, 2019

Court system undermined? Chief Justice, DPP infuriated by staff shortage

Published:Tuesday | September 19, 2017 | 12:00 AMLivern Barrett
Paula Llewellyn, director of public prosecutions.

Chief Justice Zaila McCalla yesterday suggested that some of the measures being put in place to clear the backlog of cases in the circuit courts are being undermined by inadequate staffing.

Her concerns came on the same day chief prosecutor Paula Llewellyn went public with her frustration over delays by the finance ministry to give her office the go-ahead to fill 17 posts, for which approval has already been given.

Amid the concerns, the backlog of cases in the Home Circuit Court continues to balloon. According to statistics compiled by the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, a total of 861 cases are down for trial during the Michaelmas Term, which got under way yesterday.

This includes 733 cases that were traversed from the previous term and 128 new committals. Murders accounted for 398 of the cases, rapes for 181, and 129 were for the offence of sexual intercourse with a person below 16 years old.

As part of the measures to help reduce the backlog, the justice ministry has begun retrofitting a number of courtrooms at the Supreme Court building in downtown Kingston to accommodate criminal trials.

But while indicating that the courtrooms are not ready for use, McCalla said, "Even if they were, we wouldn't have the staff to operate them.

"The Supreme Court is suffering because we don't have the staff to man the courts. The courts can't operate alone; we have to have the support staff," she lamented following the start of the new term.

Llewellyn said late last year, the finance ministry gave approval for the hiring of 17 additional employees - 10 prosecutors and seven administrative and paralegal staff - effective April 1 this year.

"But to date, we have not had those posts operationalised," she complained.

The chief prosecutor said "in frustration" she wrote to the ministry, through the deputy financial secretary in charge of the public sector establishment unit, "pleading, imploring for six temporary posts".

"I have not even been given the courtesy of a response," she revealed.

"I am frustrated, but we can't block road and demonstrate," Llewellyn complained.

McCalla said plans to operate two courtrooms at the St Catherine Circuit Court this term were abandoned because of the staffing problem at the DPP's office.