Judges take blame for delays
By JADA LOUTOO Saturday, December 14 2013
CHIEF Justice Ivor Archie has staved off possible impeachment proceedings by taking blame and accepting responsibilities for delays in the Judiciary to deliver timely judgments.
In a three-page statement emailed to media houses late yesterday by Court Information and Protocol Manager Jones P Madeira, the Judiciary said the issue of delays in the delivery of judgments was “actively engaging” its attention.
“The Judiciary wishes to indicate to all of its stakeholders that it views with utmost seriousness all of the relevant concerns expressed. It acknowledges the problem and takes responsibility for the state of affairs,” the statement said.
The issue of delays was raised two weeks ago by two convicted killers who threatened to take legal action against the State if the Chief Justice did not give an explanation for the delay in delivering judgment in their cases.
Both men said they intended to petition the Prime Minister to invoke impeachment proceedings against Archie by exercising her powers under Section 137 of the Constitution.
Section 137 (3) outlines the procedure for setting up a tribunal to investigate the removal of the Chief Justice, once the Prime Minister advises the President to do so. They have also sought to determine how many cases Archie had outstanding judgments to deliver.
The statement provided a breakdown of outstanding matters, pointing out that in the past there were matters awaiting determination for as many as ten years.
“The more recent picture is one in which any matter before the court for more than three years is an exception,” the statement said. It also provided a timetable by which judges and masters intend to deliver outstanding judgments. According to the Judiciary, there are 37 matters awaiting decisions from the Court of Appeal, with 18 of these for more than one year.
Two of the 18 had to be rescheduled because of the death of Justice of Appeal Wendell Kangaloo in July.
Of the remaining 16, the Chief Justice is a part of the panel in five matters. Notices have already been issued informing the parties that judgment will be delivered in four of them on December 18, including the cases of Pitman and Wilson.
In addition, a further two of those matters will also be delivered before December 20. Of the 18 matters reserved for judgment in 2013, the Judiciary said notices have been issued to the parties that decisions in nine of them will be delivered on or before December 18.
Other than Pitman and Wilson, the Judiciary did not provide the names of the litigants involved but said 16 reserved decisions will be given before December 20.
The Judiciary also said by March 31, 2014 all decisions outstanding for more than 12 months at that date will be delivered; and by July 30, 2014, all decisions outstanding for more than six months at that date will be delivered.
The Judiciary further promised to intensify its efforts to improve on the situation.
“This will be done against an understanding that timeliness and quality must co-exist in all decision-making if there is to be sustainable public trust and confidence in the administration of justice in Trinidad and Tobago,” the statement said.
The statement noted there has always been a concern over timely decisions and disposition of cases and to ameliorate this efforts were taken to included the introduction and application of technology in case management, the recruitment of more judges and masters, the creation of special courts such as the Family Court and the Drug Treatment Court to deal with specific societal issues and the creation of a Department of Court Administration to free up judges from administrative responsibilities to enable them to focus on their core function of judging. “The task of delivering judgments in a timely manner presents different challenges in the Court of Appeal when compared to the High Court,” the Judiciary also pointed out in its lengthy statement.
It said all three judges who sit on a panel must collaborate and collectively arrive at a decision.
“That may involve competing opinions and several discussions and re-drafts,” the statement said.
“All of the judges of the Court of Appeal work extremely hard, and are conscious of the fact that a bad judgment delivered speedily can create binding precedent that seriously undermines confidence in the administration of justice,” the statement said.
It also noted that the work of the appellate court had increased dramatically in recent years, “and the issue of delay is further complicated by the fact that the court has been inundated by procedural appeals which, according to the Rules of Court, must be given a hearing within 28 days.”
The statement also pointed out that within the last five years, the court had been operating at reduced numerical strength because of the retirement of Justice of Appeal Humphrey Stollmeyer and the death of Justice Kangaloo. It said the statutory quota of judges had never been filled.
The statement also provided an explanation for the constraints in the delivery of judgments in the High Court. It said the more matters that are fixed for hearing, the less time there is to write judgments. According to the statement, in recent years matters are disposed of within two years of being filed.
The Judiciary also noted the Chief Justice was surprised at news reports that indicated his surprise that there was a plot to have him demit office, saying no such assertion was made against the State at the meeting of judges and masters held last Monday. Judges of the Supreme Court and masters will again meet in January to discuss further measures to deal with the issue of delay in delivering judgments, with additional meetings scheduled for March and July, 2014.