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Wednesday 22 May 2019
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Turning a corner

CHIEF JUSTICE Ivor Archie canvassed some of the measures that have been adopted to improve the efficiency of the court system as he opened the new law term on Monday. These measures are to be largely welcomed but they also underline the need for more profound institutional changes to deepen transparency and autonomy of the judicial arm of the State.

Archie said judges in the criminal courts undertook an initiative during the recent vacation to address the backlog of cases.

“Not only did they dispose of over a dozen matters by trial or plea, but we had 155 persons coming to court for status hearings, maximum sentence indications, and case management directions, and we are now poised to make a massive dent in the backlog by the end of the calendar year,” the Chief Justice said.

While challenges still remain in the handling of criminal cases, the judges are to be praised for their demonstration of a will to address the matter. Alongside efforts to rationalise the nature of court matters which go to trial, such exercises can only result in further improvements.

One such rationalisation is the streamlining of traffic offences. According to the Chief Justice, statistics compiled for the period spanning the last five years, from 2013/2014 to the past law term at the various magistrates’ courts, reveal that of the average number of new magisterial cases which stands at about 136,000, the majority or 56 per cent are traffic related. Recent data generated for the just concluded law term show that the total number of new cases filed was 165,154 and of those 102,875 or 62 per cent are traffic matters.

So, based on these data trends, traffic matters, when included in the court system, tend to skew the total number of new matters filed and disposed of at the various magistrates’ courts at the expense of other judicial work, in particular petty civil courts, as well as criminal trials.

Archie’s outlining of a new system which would see only contested traffic tickets reach the court is, therefore, to be welcomed. As is his proposal to ensure judges are paid at fair rates. This is more so given the need to attract talent to the Bench.

“We cannot continue to pay judges at 2005 basic salaries in 2018 and then complain that suitable people don’t want to apply,” Archie said. “The sacrifice has become quite extreme.”

Also to be welcomed is the signal of co-operation sent, particularly as it relates to the need for appropriate performance assessment measures and intermediate disciplinary sanctions. We agree that careful consideration should be given to a disciplinary council whose procedures would ensure due process while maintaining public trust and confidence. But such procedures are meaningless if not moored to an autonomous Judiciary which is free from administrative and financial ties to the Executive.

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