Edmond Campbell, Senior Staff Reporter
With a crippling backlog of approximately 400,000 cases in the courts islandwide, a parliamentary oversight committee was in no mood yesterday for excuses as it sought answers from the justice ministry about plans to dramatically reduce the startling number.
An explanation given by Carol Palmer, permanent secretary in the Ministry of Justice, did not find favour with committee members who indicated that a timetable should be presented on the reduction of the backlog.
Palmer, who appeared before the Public Administration and Appropriations Committee yesterday, said she could not provide details about the reduction of the backlog as she would have to be advised by the courts.
However, committee Chairman Edmund Bartlett told the permanent secretary that it was her responsibility to have that information available for the committee.
"The courts must tell you what their schedules are, how are they going to deal with this very serious problem of backlog because that is at the heart of dispensing of justice in our society," a strident Bartlett stated.
Using the maxim 'Justice delayed is justice denied', Bartlett argued that Jamaicans could not feel that they were being treated fairly if they did not even have a hearing in the courts.
REPORT INTO SITUATION ORDERED
Said Bartlett to Palmer: "We do not want to suggest that you are escaping the responsibility of providing that information for this committee."
He instructed the permanent secretary to prepare a full report on the backlog of cases for a meeting to be held during the new parliamentary year.
The ministry, in a report submitted to the committee, said despite significant increases in spending on maintenance of public order and safety, the physical and human resources had not kept pace with growth in the volume of cases coming into the court system.
Additionally, the ministry said an upsurge in crime and conflict in the society has had a significant impact on the case backlog.