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'I'm frustrated!'

DPP pleads for more staff as caseload soars

BY TANESHA MUNDLE
Observer staff reporter
mundlet@jamaicaobserver.com

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

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Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Paula Llewellyn yesterday expressed frustration at the high volume of court cases that her office has to be dealing with despite a lack of adequate Crown counsel and support staff.

The outspoken DPP said she was forced to voice her concerns because of the delays and lack of response from the finance ministry in signing off on her request for additional staff, although Cabinet had approved the budget on April 1.

Speaking at the opening of the Michaelmas Term of the Home Circuit Court, the DPP said that her office is overburdened with new cases coming into the system and that she had submitted to the ministry a request for 17 posts, which included 10 Crown counsel, to replace the ones who had been promoted in the last two years. However, she said although the budget had been approved by the justice ministry and the permanent secretary in the finance ministry, the positions have still not been filled.

Further to that, said Llewellyn, in July she wrote to the Public Service Establishment Division of the Ministry of Finance pleading for six temporary posts to be approved, as her office was told that the ministry was awaiting the completion of a general organisational review before her request for additional staff could be granted. However, to date she has not been given the courtesy of a response.

“The Office of DPP, we cannot block road and demonstrate, but I am frustrated, and I have to bear the frustration of all my members of staff who are working around the clock — night and day and on the weekends — to prepare all these cases, but we need the assistance. I need the posts,” she said.

According to figures released by the Office of the DPP, a total of 861 cases are down for trial in the Home Circuit Court. Of that number, 128 are new cases, while 733 are unfinished.

The DPP also raised concerns about what she described as the “tsunami-like” number of cases before the courts and the lack of adequate court rooms to try the matters, as well as the incomplete cases that are being sent by the parish courts to the Home Circuit Court.

Meanwhile, Chief Justice Zaila McCalla said that the Supreme Court Criminal and Civil Division is also suffering from a lack of adequate staff and that the setback suffered by the DDP's office as it relates staffing has impacted a number of initiatives that the court wanted to embark on, such as the case management court pilot and the operation of two courts in St Catherine to deal with the high number of cases there.

“We hear about a digitised court system but the court cannot operate on its own. Even if you are to put a judge alone in a court without a jury, the support staff is needed,” she said

In the meantime, McCalla urged defence lawyers to take advantage of measures, such as agreed facts, sentence reduction days, and plea bargaining, which have been implemented to speed up trials and to dispose of cases .

“We cannot try our way out of all these cases; it will take years,” she said. “Unless we embrace these things and embrace them wholeheartedly, we will not get results.”

The chief justice also urged defence attorneys to ensure that their cases are thoroughly prepared.

“We have to do whatever we can to address this problem because we in the court system have no control over the number of cases that are coming on a daily basis. When I look at the statistics, many, many case are being tried but the reality is that after those cases have been disposed of, more cases are coming in and sometimes you get in a greater number than those that are disposed of, so it looks like it is not moving,” the chief justice said.

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