Mon | Jan 25, 2021

Trial date uncertainty - Senior citizen hopes to be alive when decade-long court case finally starts

Published:Sunday | July 28, 2019 | 12:31 AM

At 68 years old, Marjorie Goldsmith* is hopeful that God will allow her to live long enough to witness the start of a civil case she filed against a security company 15 years ago.

Goldsmith, a trained technician, sued the security company in 2004 after criminals broke into a property she owned and made off with millions of dollars worth of laboratory equipment.

She said that the security company was employed to monitor the facility electronically, but one day she turned up at the property and saw that it was broken into. That was when the security company knew of the breach.

She later filed a suit against them.

After almost giving up on the case, Goldsmith said that she got a break when the matter was called up for mention two months ago. Her joy was shattered, however, when the court date was set for four years from now.

“2023 or something like that, them say,” said the sickly senior, bemoaning how the break-in resulted in the death of her business, and over the years caused a depletion of her savings and promise of a worthwhile pension.

‘THAT WAS MY PENSION’

“That was my pension, my investment. I took out a whole lot of finances,” said Goldsmith. “After a good while, I took on a little job – thinking that the case would be finished – to keep my brain occupied, and all now the case has not started as yet.”

She asked: “When it takes so long, how are you going to remember some of the fine details? What happens if the person goes through several traumatic experiences or has a loss of memory? We are really playing cricket on the back foot in terms of memory, and you also open up the playing field that the other party, the accused, can have access to everything and change their story.”

The elderly woman sighed hard at the question of whether or not she will live to finally get justice.

“That is for the Lord to determine,” offered Goldsmith, adding that receiving some compensation for her equipment after all those years would make her happy and will better her confidence in the justice system.

Two other individuals with cases set for 2022 bemoaned the breakdown in witness cooperation, as well as the loss in value due to the long wait for the commencement of trials.

“For example, at the time that you started the matter, the damage might be $200,000, but if you have to wait for that long time, by the case ends, what is the value of $200,000?” argued one plaintiff. “Another thing is that by the time the case starts, the defendant would have already secured all of his assets and you can’t get anything.”

Last year, Chief Justice Bryan Sykes introduced hearing date certainty among a raft of measures aimed at reducing delays, particularly in the Home Circuit Court. It refers to the certainty that cases will begin on the scheduled date, Sykes explained.

Reports are that trial date certainty is approximately 78 per cent, while Sykes had set a target for 95 per cent.

Last week, Kadiesh Fletcher, communication director at the Court Management Services, explained that although there might be some inconvenience to individuals, the trial date certainty is pivotal in addressing Jamaica’s case backlog.

“We are trying to do away with the practice of having multiple mentions and hearings dates, and actually schedule it for a time when the court can in fact hear the matter,” said Fletcher, noting that on a given day, one courtroom, with one judge, can try only one case.

“So, if you have 10 matters listed for the courtroom, that tells you that at least nine of the 10 matters will be put off because we can only proceed with one matter. So with hearing date certainty, it means that you are almost 100 per cent that on the given date, the matter will be tried.”

*Name changed to protect identity.

corey.robinson@gleanerjm.com