Chief Justice, Hon. Zaila McCalla, says progress is being made in the justice system to clear the backlog of cases, but this is not being properly reported in the media, as oftentimes the figures quoted are not up to date.
Speaking at the swearing in ceremony of Mrs. Vivene Harris as a Puisne Judge of the Supreme Court, at King’s House, on April 10, Mrs. McCalla said that, “from reports and figures being bandied about in the media, one gets the impression that the backlog of cases have not moved."
“Indeed, the figures being quoted have been the same for months, if not years, and are not in my view to be relied upon, as they have not been collated by persons with the necessary technical knowledge of the processes of the court,” she added.
She pointed out that Judges and Resident Magistrates dispose of a vast number of cases in the island’s courts on a daily basis, but “the fact is that civil and criminal cases come into the system at an alarming rate and the human and physical resources required have not been sufficient to address the situation."
Meanwhile, she noted that progress has been made in the efficient management of cases in several parishes, with St. James being one of the parishes in which the criminal case management system was implemented, and that Justice Harris has been involved in that process.
“The success rate for matters referred for mediation in that parish is over 80 per cent…the fledgling court management service is now positioning itself to deliver improved service to our courts,” Mrs. McCalla said..
She informed that a new telephone system has been installed to serve the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court, while several projects have been undertaken at the Supreme Court to streamline its operations, and make provisions for improved use of technology, to enhance service delivery to Jamaicans.
The Chief Justice acknowledged that one of the major challenges is to eradicate the culture of delay, which she described as “endemic” in the justice system.
“This requires the co-operation of all participants in the system. We are continuing the work to implement criminal case management in all courts, and to that end, the criminal case management committee will be conducting workshops for stakeholders in several parishes, over the next few months,” she informed.
Mrs. McCalla said the upcoming term will be a difficult one, as rural circuit courts are overburdened. “We will have to extend sittings in several parishes in an effort to reduce the number of cases on the circuit court list. This will result in an increase work load for judges in the civil and criminal divisions of the Supreme Court,” she said.
“Cases have also piled up at the Gun Court, mainly due to the unavailability of ballistic certificates in a timely manner over a prolonged period,” she explained, noting that there has been some improvement at the forensic laboratory with the acquisition of new equipment.
However, she said legislative intervention through an amendment to the Evidence Act, may need to be considered. “The task at hand is not an easy one…it requires commitment, dedication and team work. If cases are to be settled, for example, before trial dates, attorneys at law should always be mindful that they should communicate that information to the Registrar of the Supreme Court, so that time is not wasted,” she said.
Mrs. McCalla congratulated Justice Harris on her appointment, noting that she was well qualified, and is “a worthy candidate in whom confidence has been reposed to carry out her duty with the utmost competence, fairness and integrity."
By Alphea Saunders, JIS Reporter