Family Court delays especially tough

 Carol Gobin was right, of course! As everyone in the rest of the country knows, as year-end bonus time rolls around, executive remuneration is tied to achievement of productive goals.

If you don’t show results, your salary and benefits are affected. That is the way the world works for us lesser mortals. Why should judges be exempt? If they are paid to produce judgments, as their job title suggests, why should they get paid if they don’t produce?

I have no connection with the criminal courts, which are the focus of the current controversy in which the reputation of the judicial system is being focused on in the media, and for what seems to be a valid reason… as the time-honoured adage goes: ”Justice delayed is justice denied”. I do, however, from time to time, have to deal with people whose matters, and very urgent ones at that, go before the Family Court. When justice is delayed there, the human rights of children and their families are denied, and their lives affected, sometimes forever. One member of that court has judgments outstanding for 13 months in one case, and four years in another.

The second of these matters became the cause of a judgment issued by the Privy Council which stated: “The board is not asked to determine whether delay in the delivery of his judgment, entirely unexplained, was unconstitutional… but on any view it was an affront to family justice; and it was made worse by the further delay of almost two years, also unexplained, in the court’s provision to the parties of a transcript of it and of the notes of evidence.” It went on to shame the entire Trinidad and Tobago judicial system by saying it declines to accept that a delay of that magnitude is unremarkable in T&T.

It went on to note, with some sarcasm, that in the T&T Family Proceedings Rules which came into force ten years ago: “the overriding objective of the new rules is to enable the court to deal justly with fami­ly matters, including that they are dealt with expeditiously”.

Elsewhere, the Privy Council has stated that 12 months’ delay in deli­vering a judgment is to be consi­dered excessive, and in the Family Proceedings Rules of T&T’s own jurisdiction: “the court is required to further the over-riding objective by actively managing cases”.

Carol Gobin’s questions—which she asked on behalf, perhaps, of those of us who have no voice in the administration of justice, but which affect the entire country—should apply as well to the proceedings in the Family Court, an institution which had been one of the prou­dest achievements in the struggle to care for and protect children this country has ever produced.

Diana Mahabir-Wyatt

Member, Trinidad and Tobago

Counsel for Human Rights

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