New law creating court backlog, says DPP
of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Paula Llewellyn has expressed concern that the growing number of incomplete cases being sent to the Circuit Court for trial under the Committals Proceedings Act will eventually worsen the already heavy backlog.
Under the Act, which was operationalised last January, criminal cases which would normally be subjected to a preliminary hearing in the parish courts are now sent straight to the high court without a hearing.
However, according to the DPP, many of these cases are incomplete and if the issue is not corrected,s the Circuit Court will end up becoming a mention court.
Speaking at Monday’s opening ceremony of the Hilary Term, Llewellyn said the Act was putting more burden on her office and likened the number of new cases sent to her office to a “tsunami”.
In the St Catherine Circuit Court 150 new cases were added to the list, which had 133 traversed cases; St James had 64 new cases along with 125 traversed cases; Clarendon had 41 new cases, in addition to 146 traversed cases. In the Home Circuit court, 144 new cases were added to the list this term, along with 476 unfinished cases from last term.
Llewellyn said the prosecutors in her office will now have to assume “superhuman status” to deal with the number of cases before them.
However, to address the problem she said her office has made a number of recommendations which she will be sending to the parish courts, with the permission of the chief justice.
“We have recommended to the parish courts, through the chief justice, that there should be a two-week cut-off time period prior to the opening of circuit in respect to committal cases,” Llewellyn said. “Upon committal, the matters should be expeditiously sent to us and should arrive no less than two weeks before the date of the Circuit Court hearing.”
She said that under the Act, “we should have indictments in place on the opening day. However, because of what has almost been like a tsunami, and given the fact that we are only human — because we only got these several days before, so it was humanly impossible – with the recommendations we hope that come Easter we will be in a better position”.
The other recommendations include that a completed report must be placed on all files and that matters be staggered over the life of a particular circuit, in cycles over a two-week period.
She also implored all stakeholders, including defence attorneys, to join in efforts to better manage the court cases.
“This Committal Proceedings Act is going to obligate all of us, especially in the parish courts, to be managerially astute,” Llewellyn added, while noting that her office has received permission from the chief justice to meet with clerk of courts and court administrators in order to make sure that the guidelines are observed in a standardised manner.
Further to that, she said that in the Easter term she will be “holding the line”, and if critical documents are missing the case will be sent back to the Parish Courts.
Meanwhile, Jamaica Bar Association President Sheryl McGregor has labelled as “impossible” and “unrealistic” the task before the court.
“…We have 600-and-odd cases, four courts and less than 100 days in the term. If my calculation is correct, that would require us to complete six cases per day if we are to complete the list. It is impossible,” McGregor said.
The 620 cases represent an 18 per cent increase over the corresponding period last year when 522 cases were heard.
However, of the overall number of cases in the new term, 476 were brought over from the Michaelmas Term, during which only 60 of a total 536 cases were disposed of, while 144 new cases were added to the list.
The unfinished cases represent a 1.6 per cent increase over the same period in 2016, while the new cases represent a 793.75 per cent increase over the corresponding 2016 Hilary Term when only 16 new cases were added.
One hundred and fourteen new sexual cases have been added to the case load for the Hilary Term, while 298 of the murder cases are from last term, and 14 are new.
One hundred and five sexual cases, which were not completed from the last term, were brought over. They include 61 rape and 15 indecent assault cases.