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Three Bills addressing the backlog of court cases were passed in the Senate on July 25.
The Bills seek to amend the Judicature Supreme Court Act, in order to increase the number of Judges of the Supreme Court and the number of Masters; the Judicature Appellate Jurisdiction Act, so as to increase the number of Judges of the Court of Appeal; and the Jury Act, to enable the Registrar of the Supreme Court to make appropriate arrangements for the service of summons to jurors, and to remove from the Commissioner of Police the responsibility for the service of such summonses.
Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Senator Dorothy Lightbourne, who piloted the Bills, noted that they form part of the crime-fighting initiative, “and this is the justice aspect to speed up the trial of cases and the backlog of cases and to bring on extra courtrooms. We are trying to find space to at least speed up the gun court trials and to create two extra gun court rooms and in all of this, we will need extra judges.”
The Bill to amend the Judicature Supreme Court Act seeks to provide for a minimum of 24 and a maximum of 40 Puisne Judges and a minimum of four and a maximum of eight Masters. “At present, we only have one Master in the Supreme Court…and it is recognized that the Master does non-contentious matters, but it is recognized increasingly, the Master can be given more work to do more contentious matters, such as contested matrimonial matters involving children (and) maintenance matters,” Senator Lightbourne said.
In terms of the Bill to amend the Judicature Appellate Jurisdiction Act, which intends to increase by six the maximum number of Judges of the Court of Appeal, the Senator noted that at present, “we have seven Court of Appeal Judges and they sit in two divisions of three and there is one judge floating around and the proposal is to increase by six the maximum number of the judges of the Court of Appeal.”
She noted further that the Bill also provides that after having increased the judges, they could now sit in more than one division of three judges. “We would have an extra division of the Court of Appeal and in fact, we can have more than three as the need arises,” the Senator added.
Turning to the Bill to amend the Jury Act, which also seeks to widen the pool of persons from which jury lists may be compiled, to include holders of Taxpayer Registration Numbers (TRN), Miss Lightbourne said that, often times, when the jury list is drawn up, “we find that jurors whose names are on the list have not been served their summonses to attend court.”
“The law as it stands at the moment provides that the Registrar of the Supreme Court must give the summonses to be served to the Commissioner of Police. It’s the police who have responsibility for the service of such summonses on jurors and often times we find that it is just not done and this leads to a shortage of jurors,” she said.
Senator Lightbourne pointed out that it is mandatory that the Registrar of the Supreme Court have the Commissioner of Police serve the summonses and give the Registrar the choice to also engage other persons to serve the summonses. “So that means you could engage a private investigative agency to have the summonses served to have these jurors come to court, and also at present, the jurors are drawn from the electoral list,” she explained.
“The suggestion has been made that if we draw from that list, we will have a wider pool to draw from and so this Bill seeks to give the amendment for this to be done, so that we can widen our pool of jurors and ensure that the summonses are served upon them. Of course there will be the need for public education to get people to know that it’s their duty to serve, because often when persons are served, they give many excuses as to why they cannot serve,” the Senator said.