Removing any shadow of doubt
April 26, 2007
Over time the wider society has been complaining about the backlog in the courts. No criminal session has ever gone by with the courts being able to handle all the cases presented to it.
Simple mathematics would reveal that there would always be a growing number of cases to be tried and as the backlog grows, so too will the length of time an individual spends in jail awaiting trial, and this was never envisaged by the people who fashioned the laws.
In the High Court there are nine courts but at no time are all in session. Even during the criminal sessions, judges assigned to sit are sometimes idle, in that they have no matter before them. And this has nothing to do with the judges. They do not select the cases they have to hear.
The Registrar of the Supreme Court is responsible for preparing the list of those who must come to trial. They are presented in numerical order, but quite often they are never tried in that order.
Three years ago two lawyers, one of whom is now a Government Minister, mounted a challenge in the court and secured an order that people be tried in chronological order. This merely means that if a person is committed to stand trial before another individual then that individual must be tried in the High Court before that individual.
However, other members of the judiciary and prominent jurists all contended that this was not practical. They argued that going to trial depends on a number of factors, not least among them the availability of witnesses. Sometimes, the hearing of the matter also depends on the alacrity with which a magistrate prepares the deposition, and in this country, it is not unusual for there to be reports of missing depositions.
The jurists also argued that sometimes, given the delay in getting a matter to trial could see witnesses leaving the jurisdiction, sometimes permanently, and this would often hinder a trial.
The end result was that some lawyers challenged the ruling in support of chronological trial in the High Court and got the Appeal Court to upturn that ruling. However, there is still the delay although there are more and more cases of people being committed to a High Court trial and being able to have an early trial.
Sometimes the process is so efficient that prisoners would ask that their matters be deferred, perhaps to another session, citing reasons to support their interest.
But there is a worrying factor and this surely needs investigating. It would seem that at times the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions opts to have some cases heard against others. Given the suspicion with which many people view legal proceedings and given the persistent view that there is corruption, it is in everyone's interest that nothing is done to convey the impression that the court has a stake in the outcome of the proceedings.
The United States Department of State, in its last three annual reports, stated that the local judiciary is weak. Some sections of the wider society have latched on to this, and therefore see some ulterior motive in every decision the court takes.
Just last week, a prisoner went on a hunger strike because he felt that someone was manipulating the order in which matters should be heard. A case listed at number 31 was actually heard before a case listed at 13. One official said that the removal of the right to try matters in chronological order affords people to appear in any order.
However, the responsibility for presenting matters before the courts rests with the DPP.
It is the duty of the DPP to procure the witnesses and to have the relevant documents presented to the prosecution. In that instance, when the matter listed at number 31 was heard, the office of the DPP was confident that it had all the requirements for trial at its disposal.
But one must ask about the failure to have some matters brought before the courts after the accused has been languishing in prison for as long as four and five years. We feel that the DPP has provided the prosecutor with all the files of those who are to go to trial in this session of the Assizes. It is now left for those entrusted in conducting the trial to ensure that there is no semblance of bias or preference.
The judiciary must appear to be purer than Caesar's wife.