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Minister of Justice and Attorney General, Senator Dorothy Lightbourne, has said that that it will cost approximately $103 million annually to deal with the backlog of cases in the courts.
The Minister was making her contribution to the State of the Nation Debate in the Senate on Friday(Feb.13).
She said that several measures have been implemented to deal with the backlog.
“We have increased the number of (court) masters from one to no less than four, and recruitment is now underway. Legislation has also been amended to increase the number of Resident Magistrates by eight. This will include two judges for the Family Court,” Senator Lightbourne said.
The number of Prosecutors in the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions(DPP) has also been increased by 12, and other staff additions will be made in the Supreme Court and the office of the DPP.
Three additional courtrooms have been made available in the Supreme Court to deal with criminal matters. Two of these are being used for Gun Court hearings, making a total of three Gun Courts. This has been done by shifting civil matters to the three caucus rooms at the Jamaica Conference Centre, downtown Kingston, since mid-October, 2008.
The Jury Act has also been amended to, allow for the expansion of the jury pool as well as to enable the Registrar of the Supreme Court to make appropriate arrangements for the serving of summonses on jurors.
“In addition, the Director of Public Prosecutions is undertaking a review of cases, so as to strike out those which are merely clogging up the system,” Senator Lightbourne said.
The Minister said that another of the strategies being employed was the introduction of case management, targeting the criminal courts.
She explained that the successful implementation of case management will improve the ability of the courts to set performance targets, and predict the conclusion of cases brought before the Courts.
She noted that the British government has offered their assistance in this endeavour, specifically in preparing the Judges, members of the public and the private bar and staff of the criminal registry for the introduction of case management.
This programme will also include a public awareness programme, which will be undertaken during the remainder of the fiscal year and into next year. The activities are being coordinated by the Justice Training Institute.
She said that the Ministry has started a Backlog Assessment Study, which included the audit of criminal matters in the Supreme Court and Resident Magistrate’s Courts.
“This will help us to identify the scope and complexity of the cases and the dimensions of the backlog problem. It will also provide a basis to analyze proposed backlog reduction strategies for greater impact,” Senator Lightbourne said.
She said that preliminary research has indicated that, as at July 2007, there were 19,456 active cases in the Resident Magistrate’s Courts. Approximately 40%, or 7,831 of the cases exceeded the 8-month timeframe used in jurisdictions like the United States, Canada and South Africa.
Approximately 75% of the cases were criminal, 18% were civil cases and five per cent were coroner’s matters. Findings from the assessment, which was completed in October 2008, also confirmed that of almost 12,000 active criminal cases in the Resident Magistrate’s Courts, 57% fell within the “backlog” status.
“These are active matters which have been in the Courts for a period of eight (8) months and more, and have not yet been disposed of,” Senator Lightbourne explained.
She also noted that there is a close link between the difficulties being experienced in empanelling jurors and the backlog of cases in the system.
“Therefore, it will be necessary to examine the jury system to address issues like the increasing reluctance of citizens to serve,” the Justice Minister said.
In addition, the Ministry will continue to review the jury system, in the context of the recommendations from the various task force reports during the next year, to identify areas in current practice that require change, as well as other relevant legislative amendments that must be made such as to re-examine the exempted categories of jurors and to revise the types of cases that can be tried without a jury.