The concerns of three judges last week on the issue of attorney preparedness in the Appeals Court should be heard and acted on. While there are many problems dogging the operations of the Judiciary, flaws in process and procedure should be identified and acted on with dispatch. Appeal Court judge Justice Alice Yorke-Soo Hon put her concern bluntly after two appeals had to be adjourned on Thursday because attorneys were not ready to proceed.
"This is unacceptable," Yorke-Soo Hon said. "Attorneys must be ready. We get the blame.”
The Appeal Court is a critical function of the judicial process, an opportunity for those who feel that they have not been properly served by trial court to have their cases reviewed by senior justices. It is here that cases are reconsidered. Some are reaffirmed, others dismissed.
The results of sittings of the Appeal Court can sometimes be surprising, are usually interesting and are always soberly considered and backed by a wealth of judicial experience. They are also a crucial part of the justice system, providing an accessible option of review for selected cases that have been heard in the trial court system. Beyond that is the Privy Council, a level of redress to which few in prison will ever have access. So it’s not surprising that Justice Prakash Moosai would declare himself shocked by the number of requests for adjournments of cases set for hearing in the criminal appeals section of the court, noting that in civil appeals, cases are rarely adjourned and only when good reasons are offered for such delays.
Unfortunately, the only remedy available to justices of the Appeal Court is a choice between adjournment and sending the case back to the cause list for new dates to be set, which essentially resets the case to a request for hearing. For the justice system, these delays mean wasted court time and more pressure on other cases on the court’s packed calendar. That's a solution that doesn't put any pressure on attorneys to improve their preparation and unnecessarily adds to the legal costs of prisoners hoping for a second hearing of their cases.
Appellate court judges have already called for the Criminal Procedure Rules to apply to criminal appeals, which would bring to bear very specific timelines for court preparation as codified in the 2016 legal supplement and allow judges to apply meaningful sanctions to ensure greater compliance with the requirements of court appearances.
All the Criminal Procedure Rules don’t apply to the appeals process, but the specific conditions for presentation outlined in that legislation would regularise the failures of procedure that plague the Appeals Court.