Hand down judgments within six months, Justice Minister Chuck demands of Jamaican judges

(Jamaica Observer) Minister of Justice Delroy Chuck is increasing the pressure on judges to deliver judgments in a timely manner, despite criticisms that he could come across as appearing to interfere with the work of the judiciary.

Chuck insists that six months is a “reasonable time” within which judgments should be delivered.

Delroy Chuck

Addressing the Jamaican Bar Association (JBA) in Montego Bay, St James on Saturday night, Chuck pointed out that other jurisdictions had gone so far as to withhold salary and pensions. “I honestly do not wish to see Jamaica go there” he told an awards dinner comprising mainly attorneys-at-law at the end of the JBA’s three-day annual conference held at the Half Moon Hotel in Rose Hall.

“Other jurisdictions have enacted legislation to determine time standards and other judicial functions… I shall continue to use moral suasion to urge the timely delivery of judgements and hope that I will see less complaint letters coming across my desk on a daily basis,” he stated.

Chuck said that he would also continue to ask the JBA to provide a full list of judgements outstanding for more than six months, “so the Chief Justice and others can be reminded of the extent and impact of the prolonged delays”.

Chuck further pointed to countries in the region such as Guyana which has legislated that judgements must be delivered within six months, otherwise the judge is cited for misconduct.

“Here, we have maybe over 50 judgements in excess of six months, some for over two years,” he told the Sunday Observer.

He stressed that “there are many frustrated and angry attorneys and litigants who are waiting on their decisions”, pointing out that some of the judges with outstanding judgments have retired.

According to a ministry document submitted to the PAAC last month, the average duration of a criminal trial in 2016/17 was three weeks.

But examples cited of the period of time from an arrest to trial — such as in the case of Carlos Hill — showed that that matter dragged on from 2011 to 2017, going to trial in November 2016.

Chuck said that “low hanging fruits” such as probate and divorce matters do not require court adjudication and should take no longer than three months.

The minister asserted that serious offences in the Home Circuit courts, should take no longer than three years from when a person is charged to disposal of the case except in exceptional circumstances. “In the parish courts, I would like to see matters tried and completed within 18 months,” he stated.

Chuck lamented that the criminal justice system is not keeping pace with the changing times and level of crime in the country and that every stakeholder must take responsibility.

At the same time he said the prosecution must lead the process in the courts. “When persons are charged, their matter should be listed for trial within six months. The prosecution needs to demand that investigations and files are completed within three months after persons are charged, failing which the matters must be referred to the Police High Command to get the officers to act,” he stated.

Chuck noted the inefficiencies in the justice system which continue to humbug the work of judges and promised that his ministry would do everything possible to assist judges to complete cases and deliver judgements.

He explained that, for example, audio-visual infrastructure is being installed in the courts across the island to relieve the judges of taking evidence by long hand.

“The evidence will be readily available on thumb drives to make the process of completion of cases and preparation of judgements easier. I expect improvement, improvement and improvement. The country and our international partners want results”.

There is an estimated backlog of 42,632 criminal cases in parish courts across the island. These are cases which have been active in the court system for two years or more.

At the start of the year, 15,351 criminal cases were brought forward from 2016, just over 2,390 shy of the number of new cases which were filed by the second quarter of this year.

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