Chancellor takes steps to unclog court system

By Patrick Denny

Stabroek News
July 20, 2003

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Chancellor of the Judiciary, Desiree Bernard is initiating a number of steps to improve the efficiency of the court system and so reduce the backlog of cases to manageable proportions.

These steps include the introduction of new Rules of the Supreme Court which were drafted by former Chancellor Kenneth George and calls for the introduction of case flow management and the introduction of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR).

ADR is the process of resolving maters in pending litigation through a settlement, neutral case evaluation, neutral fact-finding, arbitration, mediation or other non-judicial dispute resolution process or a combination of these processes.

Two ADR consultants, Roger Moore and Steven Weller are presently in Guyana exploring and exchanging ideas with members of the judiciary and bar on various aspects and forms of mediation. Mediation is the process of ADR that the legal fraternity would explore in practice on a trial basis.

A planning committee headed by Senior Counsel, Professor Peter Britton, which the Chancellor of the Judiciary appointed in March to explore all forms of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) and to make recommendations for their implementation, has urged its early introduction.

Among the other members of the committee were Justice of Appeal Claudette Singh, Justice Claudette La Bennett, Registrar of the Supreme Court, Sita Ramlall, Magistrates Melissa Robertson Ogle and Fitzgerald Yaw, Senior Counsel Miles Fitzpatrick together with representatives from the Chambers of the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Attorney General’s Chambers, and the Guyana Bar Association and Melanie Reimer, the head of the local Carter Center office.

The report urged, “That mediation be made part of the procedure for the speedy resolution of the backlog of cases and for the continuance of a speedy and orderly flow of civil litigation”.

It also called for the establishment of a Mediation Roster initially selected from among lawyers with five or more years of practice so as to facilitate court-annexed mediation but with the criteria for inclusion being made flexible to include persons with suitable university degrees, specialised training and/or other qualifications.

It also called for the existing rules to be amended to include Summons for Direction as is found in the English and Caribbean courts as well as the introduction of Settlement Week, which the Chancellor in collaboration with the Chief Justice would designate, during which practitioners/litigants could consensually request that cases which are likely to be settled be placed on a list specified for that purpose.

The report also recommended with respect to criminal matters that serious consideration be given to plea bargaining, paper committal and indications of intention to plead guilty during the preliminary inquiry.

With respect to the other steps Chancellor Bernard told Stabroek News that last month, members of the judiciary, members of the Rules committee and representatives of the Bar participated in a retreat to discuss ways to improve the efficiency of the system and to prepare for the introduction of the new rules.

The Chancellor explained that with the establishment of the Caribbean Court of Justice, the rules of civil procedure would have to be in line with those of Trinidad and Tobago, the Eastern Caribbean, Jamaica and Barbados.

At the retreat, Master Christie Morris-Allen, Court Executive Administrator of the Judiciary of Trinidad and Tobago shared her expertise on case flow management gained through her involvement in the reform of court systems in several Caribbean jurisdictions. Deborah Mendez-Bowen, a lecturer at the Hugh Wooding Law School and an ADR specialist, and Robin Mohamed, Registrar(ag) of the Trinidad and Tobago High Court also participated in the retreat.

Mendez Bowen offered considerable detail about the pilot mediation service in St Lucia and the state of mediation services and legislation in Trinidad and Tobago. Mohamed presented a detailed comparison of the new court rules of Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States, including references to the draft new rules presently under review in Guyana.

The retreat was organised by the Carter Center with funding from the US Agency for International Development. The Carter Center also facilitated the work of Prof Britton’s committee as part of its support to the improvement of the justice system in Guyana.