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CJ: No crisis in delay of justice

Thursday, December 19, 2013
Ivor Archie

Chief Justice Ivor Archie yesterday acknowledged that the Judiciary was not immune to criticism but advised the media to be more balanced and responsible in its reporting, saying there was no crisis over any prolonged delay in the delivery of judgments. He said so after delivering the long-awaited judgment in the case of convicted murderer Lester Pitman at the Court of Appeal, Hall of Justice, Port-of-Spain.


He added: “The media, in particular, wield tremendous influence in shaping public opinion. Free and independent media and a vibrant and independent Judiciary are both indispensable components of a free and democratic society. “With that comes tremendous responsibility on both sides. However, incomplete or unverified reporting can do serious and unwarranted harm to the fabric of society and erode public trust and confidence in the administration of justice.” 


In response to a series of newspaper articles and commentaries over the last three weeks, which criticised the delay in the delivery of judgments, Archie said the unfortunate impression which “may have been garnered in some quarters that the delay of over three years between the hearing of this appeal and the delivery of judgment, which is, by any measure unusual, is the norm.” 


Last Friday, the Judiciary issued a statement on the issue of delays and Archie accepted responsibility for the state of affairs. He referred to the latest statistics of the Court of Appeal and High Court to support his claim. “In the Court of Appeal, there are just over 500 appeals filed per year. Last year that would have involved 300 civil matters (including family and matrimonial) and about 180 magisterial appeals. “We have been disposing of around 200 civil appeals per year (216 in 2012-2013) by a hearing. 


“As of November 30, 2013, there were 19 reserved judgments outstanding for more than one year, and 18 reserved during the course of this (calendar) year. “Of the 19, two had to be rescheduled because of the untimely passing of one of our brethren. So it turns out that about six per cent of the civil matters (four per cent of the total) have taken more that a year for delivery of judgment.  


“As of this week, nine of the 18 from this (calendar) year and six of the 15 from before 2013, will have been delivered, including the (Lester) Pitman and (Gerard) Wilson judgments that have been the source of much controversy.” He added: ”As we said recently, we are committed to bringing to zero by July 2014, the number of matters that are outstanding for more than six months. “The general trend is that less than ten per cent of decisions are reserved for any significant time. 


“The strategy has been to try to give as early a hearing date as possible and to do the extensive preparation that would enable us to give a decision on the day or as soon as possible thereafter. “However, we are always mindful that our decisions create binding precedent for the guidance of subordinate courts. Some matters require more care and we will never sacrifice jurisprudential quality on the altar of expedition. “A proper balance has to be struck the instant a case fell on the wrong side of the line.


“Between 2007-2008 and 2012-2013 there has been a significant increase in the civil appeals disposed of (from 82 to 217). This is due in part to the large flood of procedural appeals, which must be given a hearing within 28 days. They are often very complex (e.g. some of the Clico matters). You will recall that the Civil Proceeding Rules was implemented in 2008.


“While a delay in delivery of judgment for more than one year is not acceptable, this is not the norm. Since 2008, the year in which I assumed office, the disposition to filings ratio has risen from 0.60 to 1.05 in the Court of Appeal. We have also been operating two short of the normal number of Judges for most of the past two years.” 


He said: “At the level of the High Court, the best statistics available as of November 30, 2013 indicate that, with a disposition rate of over 5,000 per year (5,245 in 2012-2013), in only a little over one per cent of that number of cases has judgment been reserved for more than six months. The civil jurisdiction of the High Court has maintained a disposition to filings ratio of approximately 1.0 over the past two years.


“So while there is certainly room for improvement, the situation is nowhere near as dire as has been made out to be by some and there certainly has been significant improvement over the past five years.


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