One of the main complaints about the local court process is the length of time it takes for matters to be concluded. Delays occur at various stages in the process and Jamaica is not alone in this respect. A decision of Trinidad and Tobago's Privy Council on July 31, 2013 highlighted this flaw (Ramnarine v Ramnarine) to the extent that the facts of the case assumed far less prominence in the judgement than the scathing remarks about the delays.
Applications were filed by the wife, who was seeking an interest in matrimonial property. It took more than 16 years for the applications to be completed.
Here are some of the comments made by Lord Wilson about delay:
The wife was 57 years old when the first hearing ended and she began to receive a pension before the end of the hearing before the Privy Council. She was then 67 years old.
His Lordship considered whether, even if the judge had then concluded that the wife still had earning capacity at the time of the first hearing, did that finding remain safe four years later when the judgement was finally delivered? Circumstances had changed significantly by then.
The board hears a strong echo of concerns increasingly ventilated about the workload of judges ... [n]evertheless, after all reasonable allowances are made, the board concludes that the delay of four years was entirely unacceptable and must never be allowed to happen again. It would be bad enough in any sphere of litigation ... [b]ut proceedings for financial relief following divorce mandate a different legal exercise. The determination of issues relating to past events may enter into it. But at its centre is the need for an analysis of present circumstances, financial and otherwise, and for the crafting of the fairest future financial arrangements for the parties on foot of it. So the court seeks to take a photograph of a changing scene; and a system of family justice which permits the photograph and the consequential arrangements not to be promulgated until four years later, defeats the system's whole object. Apart from the burden cast by the delay upon the litigants, the orders then ultimately made, may well have become unrealistic in the interim.
"After citing the reference to the overriding objective in the Civil Procedure Rules, to "include giving directions to ensure that their trial proceeds quickly and efficiently," his Lordship commented that he "hopes that these admirable rules are nowadays able to be implemented in such a way as to consign the length of the judge's delay in the present case to history".
ground of appeal
The reality is that, depending on the length of the delay in dispensing justice, one of the grounds of appeal from a court's decision could well be the delay in delivering the judgement. In fact, the Privy Council seems to encourage litigants to include it as a ground.
Lord Simon cited a reference to an appeal from the British Virgin Islands in which judgement was delayed for 16 months. The appellant did not rely on delay as a ground of appeal and, in that case, Lord Scott said the failure to do so was like "the dog that did not bark in the night".
In other words, it is an obvious point that needs to be made.
Although the Jamaican Bar Association recently requested that attorneys provide a list of cases in which judgements are pending in the Supreme Court, in the hope that the magnitude of the problem can be identified and addressed; individual attorneys should consider whether more can be done to highlight the effect of the delays and how they inhibit the dispensation of justice.
Sherry Ann McGregor is a partner and mediator in the firm of Nunes, Scholefield, DeLeon & Co. Please send your comments and questions to email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org on twitter @lawsofeve