Minister of Justice, Hon. Delroy Chuck, while crediting the “notable successes” of the courts in different areas of operation, says there still exists long delays in setting trial dates and handing down judgments.
Mr. Chuck noted that he has been “very strident” on the matter of the long delays in delivering judgments.
“This is an issue which the Chief Justice [Bryan Sykes] himself has addressed, admonishing judges that all judgments should be delivered within 90 days of completion of the case, or within 180 days in exceptional circumstances,” he said.
He noted that in the Supreme Court, matters that do not require adjudication should be completed within 12 months, adding that if the case needs to go to trial, it should realistically be completed within two years on average.
“From filing to completion should not be longer than three years. In the Parish Courts, matters should be completed within 24 months, with 18 months being the realistic average. That is the benchmark of a first-class justice system,” he said.
Mr. Chuck said that the Chief Justice has also underscored repeatedly that more judgments should be delivered orally and “if a written judgment is required, the decision should first be given orally, and followed up within three to six months with the written explanation”.
The Minister was making his contribution to the 2020/21 Sectoral Debate in the House of Representatives on June 24.
Providing statistics on the performance of the courts, Mr. Chuck said, in the Court of Appeal, as of June 16, there are 69 outstanding reserved judgments and 30 outstanding reasons for judgment.
He said that 65.18 per cent of all matters disposed of by the Court were within six months of the hearing, and there was a 37.86 per cent increase in the number of appeals disposed of in 2019.
“However, at the end of 2019, there were still over 30 reserved judgments, which were over two years delayed,” he told the House.
He said that the Supreme Court recorded an impressive increase of 120 per cent in the number of judgments delivered in 2019, over those delivered in 2018. From January to May 2020, that Court delivered 97 judgments and reserved 42, leading to a judgment clearance rate of 231 per cent. However, 50 per cent of reserved judgments are over two years delayed, he noted.
For the Parish Courts, the case clearance rate for 2019 – the number of cases disposed of for every 100 cases entering the courts – was 101.60 per cent, an increase of 7.29 per cent over 2018.
In addition, all 13 Parish Courts exceeded the international benchmark of 85 per cent. The data for the past 36 months, from September 2016 to December 2019, show that, overall, 41.11 per cent of all cases in the Parish Courts are disposed of within 90 days of entry into the court.
Minister Chuck said that despite these results, it is clear that there still exists an unacceptably long delay in setting trial dates and delivering judgments. “We are seeing where cases that have been filed and are ready for trial in the Supreme Court are now being set for 2025/26. Such inordinate delays do not reflect timely disposal of cases. It is a matter that needs to be addressed,” Mr. Chuck said.
“Litigants have their lives on hold and are, frustratingly, waiting years to have their cases scheduled and tried. And then, thereafter, far too many judgments are reserved for longer than six months,” he added.