In an era where judges and magistrates in Guyana still manually record the testimony of witnesses, President of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) Sir Dennis Byron says it is time for the courts to move to digital transcription as a means of reducing delay.
He identified this as being one of the problem areas of trial management in Guyana.
He said that while reducing delay and improving court efficiency are often thought to be expensive process, they are not.
The CCJ head was at the time addressing the gathering at the 37th Annual Bar Dinner, which was held at the Pegasus Hotel on November 11th.
Delivering the keynote address at the event, the judge said that moving to a digital transcript, which is automatically recorded at the pace of the proceedings, will not only improve the accuracy and fairness of the record, but will also speed up the proceedings about three times.
He said in so doing, the litigant, judge and the public will have improved access to the official transcript of the court, thus contributing to open and fair justice to all.
Sir Dennis explained that making the transformation to digital recording, would have the same effect as having three times as many judges, buildings and furnishings, and equipping three times as many court rooms. The judge noted that several complaints have been levelled against the performance of judiciary, with the most common being inordinate delays, low performance and efficiency, high costs of court operations and low levels of public confidence.
It was against this backdrop that he reminded the gathering of the definition of judicial independence as the guarantor of the right of the citizen to a fair and timely trial. “If the trial process fails to provide this, should the judges and the legal profession look at their influence on judicial independence?” he asked.
Article 144(1) the Constitution states, “If any person is charged with a criminal offence, then, unless the charge is withdrawn, the case shall be afforded a fair hearing within a reasonable time by an independent and impartial court established by law.”
The integrity of the judiciary, Sir Dennis said, is primarily a matter for regulation by the judiciary itself and he noted that it need not await intervention of the executive or legislature.
“I observe that such intervention did occur in Guyana where, due to a perception of persistent and systemic delay in judgment delivery, the legislature passed legislation regulating the time that judges must take to deliver judgments, and providing for a disciplinary process which involves the Parliament,” he noted.
He said that case management encompasses many court administration processes, aimed at improving the primary processes of courts, including processing filed cases to adjudication.
To this end, he said the CCJ has set the example, with the installation of the Curia E-Filing and Case Management software suite, which incorporates a performance tool-kit with the ability to generate statistical reports.
The CCJ head said the system has allowed the region’s highest court to be more efficient and responsive in delivering justice to the region.
“I am convinced that the transition to e-filing is a logical and beneficial progression that allows litigants to file documents online, thereby facilitating broader, cheaper and more effective access to the jurisdiction of the court,” he stated.
He explained that it also facilitates the use by the court of technological systems, which will improve its operations and reduce cost, thus taking the CCJ further into the realm of the 21st century with a mobile application component that allows the judiciary and senior court staff to now access and manage court information anywhere and at any time.
Sir Dennis said the system is also available to the legal profession and will undoubtedly contribute to the efficient and effective management of litigation workloads. “The benefits of such a system are tremendous and far outweigh the cost of introduction,” he stressed.
Case backlog has been a long-standing issue plaguing the local judiciary, and the fact that judges and magistrates have to write the testimony of witnesses further worsens the problem.
Many practitioners have said that this process is time consuming, as witnesses have to speak at a pace at which the court can write verbatim what each witness says. While this is not the only cause of the backlog, many lawyers have argued that it does contribute to delay.
Sir Dennis said adopting e-filing systems and other ancillary measures would go a far way in supporting the effective operation of the new Civil Procedure Rules (CPR), and as a complement to a dedicated backlog reduction programme.
The overarching objective of the CPR of 2016 is to enable the court to deal with cases justly, taking into account, among other things, the expedition of hearings. It demands strict adherence to timelines set by the court as a means of effectively managing cases.
A failure by one party to adhere to the timetable, can result in the other making an oral application for the proceedings to be dismissed.
Sir Dennis said that one of the major accomplishments of his presidency of the CCJ is the promotion of the Advanced Performance Exponents Inc. (APEX), which is a special-purpose, non-profit agency, which is committed to delivering technology-based solutions and services to support court ecosystems.
He said APEX is owned by the regional judiciaries and legal profession and has the potential to further advance the justice landscape of the region. He noted that it has developed technology modules specifically for the legal profession as well to support the litigation management in law offices.
The Guyana Bar Association is an institutional member, he noted.
Sir Dennis said that as APEX develops, he envisions it continuing to facilitate programmes and initiatives aimed at strengthening the justice systems of the region and improving the standards of efficiency of court-related services.
According to him, the goal of APEX is to create an entire value chain to support the improvement and strengthening of Caribbean courts and justice sector institutions and the development of Caribbean jurisprudence.