Sykes: More needs to be done to clear court backlog
Chief Justice Bryan Sykes says, while 2023 “was a reasonable year for the judiciary… much work needs to be done” to clear the backlog in the Supreme Court which “gets worse with each passing year”.
“On average, over the last five years we take in 13,420 cases per year and disposed of only of 8,765 so that tells you that there is a backlog that is being carried forward,” Justice Sykes told individuals attending a swearing-in ceremony for 12 members of the judiciary as judges of appeal, puisne judges and masters-in-chambers at King’s House in St Andrew on Monday morning.
Justice Sykes, in quoting data showing that of the roughly 5,000 cases per year for the HCV Division (High Court Civil), only 1,899 are being disposed of on average, said, “So that’s roughly 3,000 cases coming forward each year and when you have that over a period of time you really get into a serious backlog and that is how come we are where we are and so what the statistician has told us is that in the Civil Division of the Supreme Court there is a 70 per cent chance of your case getting into backlog.”
According to Justice Sykes, this situation is responsible for the cries of protest from court users and litigants about the length of time that it takes for matters to get through the Supreme Court.
The chief justice said, among the steps being taken to address the inefficiencies will be a revision of the structure of the Civil Registry.
He argued that “the structure of the registry is not conducive to efficiency” and said the review, which will commence this month, is expected to be completed before the end of the current court term and sent to the Ministry of Finance and the Public Service for the structure to be approved.
“Then we will get the go-ahead to begin recruitment for the posts that will be created there,” he told the gathering.
In the meantime Justice Sykes said that while the parish courts in the last year “confirmed their backlog-free status…there is still room for improvement”.
“Because, ultimately, persons want their matters disposed of in the shortest possible time and, at the end of the day, they are not overly concerned about how elegant the prose and the speech of the judge when they come out of the court the only question they are going to ask their attorney is, did they win or lose the case and if they have lost can they appeal,” Justice Sykes noted.
According to the head of the judiciary, the parish courts can improve their performance by maximising the time available for sittings.
“The data is telling us the court sits on average three hours per day out of the five, so despite the backlog-free status it means you have approximately two hours in the day that are still underutilised, which means that cases can be brought forward to fill that period of time so that our citizens can get through their cases in the shortest possible time,” Justice Sykes said.
On Monday, Justices Georgiana Fraser and Lorna Shelly-Williams were appointed to act as Court of Appeal judges from January 15, 2024 to March 22, 2024, while Sandria Wong-Small and Dale Staple were appointed puisne judges, effective January 8, 2024, in vacant posts. Justices Sharon Millwood-Moore and Pamela Margot Mason were appointed to act as puisne judges for the period December 21, 2023 until further orders, and January 15, 2024 to March 22, 2024, respectively; while Stephany Orr, Opal Smith and Tracey-Ann Johnson will serve as acting puisne judges for the period January 8, 2024 to March 22, 2024.
Also taking the Oath of Allegiance and the Judicial Oath as master-in-chambers was Tamara Dickens, effective January 8, 2024, in a vacant post, while Luciana Jackson and Christine McNeil were appointed acting masters-in-chambers for the period January 15, 2024 to March 22, 2024 and January 8, 2024 to March 22, 2024, respectively.