A High Court judge is asking for an urgent meeting with the Chief Justice to discuss issues relating to the Judiciary’s “Court Mail” system. Asking for the meeting is Justice Frank Seepersad who said there was no consultation with judges in relation to the system.
He also referred to the Judiciary’s statement on CourtMail in response to a letter of complaint sent to the Registrar of the Supreme Court by attorney Gerald Ramdeen, who referred to the system as “court fail” since orders of the court were not being dispatched to litigants in a timely fashion.
The Judiciary, in its statement, said Ramdeen clearly misunderstood the role and function of the system, and denied it was a failure. It also explained how the system worked, adding that CourtMail was an electronic mailing facility used to sign and dispatch communication from court to attorneys and receive same from attorneys. It added, “It cannot dispatch something which has not yet been drafted and finalised.”
However, Seepersad said before the introduction of CourtMail, his judicial team would prepare orders as soon as they were granted and approved by him, and lawyers were promptly notified by e-mail. “This worked well, was efficient and ensured that as the docketed judge, I retained full control over my matters.”
In an email to other judges calling for the meeting with the CJ, Seepersad said now, when an order is made, his team has to inform the dispatch unit who will send a notification to the Registrar who was assigned the file and who will settle the order which will then be e-mailed to attorneys.
“This multi-tiered system is simply not effective and has adversely affected my ability to retain control over my generated orders and to ensure that the parties are informed of same in a timely matter.
“After this system was introduced, I was inundated with complaints by lawyers who had not received orders in a timely fashion and I directed my staff to e-mail or call the relevant attorneys and inform them of the terms of any order issued by me,” he told his colleagues.
Seepersad said it was difficult to comprehend why orders made by judges must go through the complex procedure which, according to him, does not lend itself to efficiency and which undermines a judge’s ability to properly manage cases.
“This new system has a significant negative impact on the docket management systems of judges especially those of us who issue numerous orders on a daily basis.
“Even though the lawyers may be informed by the JSO (judicial support officer) as to the terms of an order, no steps can be taken re enforcement until the lawyer receives the actual order,” he said. He added that was told that the dispatch unit was not constantly monitoring the issue of orders and, at times, it may take a day or two for the JSO to be told which registrar the case file has been sent.
“The process is simply flawed and not consistent with the delivery of efficient justice,” he added.
He also noted that since early November, judges sitting on the civil bench have registered their concerns and two of them met with assistant registrars to discuss issues relating to printing, delay in the dispatch of e-mails and orders, the sudden shutting down of computers and the disappearance of documents after they have been entered into the system.
Seepersad said the judges were told that the Judiciary no longer subscribed to the previous Judicial Enforcement Management System (JEMS), introduced in 1993, the licensing cost for which was over $1 million.
On September 6, the Judiciary presented its electronic court management suite to stakeholders at the Convocation Hall of the Hall of Justice in Port of Spain, which included the new TT.jim which replaced JEMS and was being rolled out to all courts. It was launched at the inauguration of the Children Court in 2018, and is currently in use there. It was also the outcome of the memorandum of understanding signed by CJ Ivor Archie with the Supreme Court of Nigeria and the US National Centre for State Courts.
The new electronic court management suite also included CourtMail which was described as a secure medium for the electronic creation, certification, signing and transmission of orders, judgments and notices between courts and attorneys, police and prisons.
Seepersad expressed concern with the move from JEMS and questioned why the Judiciary was continuing to increase its operating costs when it could not meet its recurrent financial obligations. He also said that the IT department has told judges it was trying to resolve issues on a case by case basis.