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CJ: DELAYED JUDGMENTS NOT THE NORM

By Multimedia Desk

Chief Justice Ivor Archie has said that the delays in the delivery of justice by the judiciary is not the normal practice.

Archie made the disclosure in a statement he gave following his delivery of the judgement in the matter between Lester Pitman and the State at the Court of Appeal, Knox Street, Port of Spain, today.

Following is the full content of Archie's statement:

"Before we rise, and because there has been considerable media attention focused on this matter, I wish to make a few observations in the hope that all interested persons would be suitably guided in the future.

Unfortunately, the impression may have been garnered in some quarters that the delay of over three years between the hearing of this appeal and the delivery of judgment, which is, by any measure unusual, is the norm.

The history of this matter is interesting. The appellant was first convicted in 2004 and the first appeal, involving 14 grounds of appeal, was heard and judgment given within nine months, in 2005. He obtained a stay of execution from the Privy Council one month later, but it was not until 2008, some three years later, that the matter was concluded by the Privy Council.

It was remitted to this Court, and further psychiatric examinations were ordered, and progress of the matter was spread over two years because the schedules of several experts, including two foreign doctors had to be taken into account. Hearing was concluded in 2010.

I should mention that the issue of delays was not discovered just three weeks ago. This has always been a priority and has been engaging the Judiciary and its stakeholders quite actively for several years. Indeed this was a major topic for discussion when we met with the Law Association of Trinidad and Tobago on November 13, 2013.

Interestingly, and at a time when the Court had indicated that judgment would be delivered before the end of the year, communication to the Court from someone who is not an Attorney on Record in the matter was published.

It is not the normal practice for the Court to communicate with persons other than litigants or their Attorneys of Record concerning pending matters. If an attorney wishes to seek an appellant’s interest in a matter before the Court then one would expect the normal courtesies to be observed: that is to say, a communication with Senior Counsel on record, and taking the necessary steps to place oneself on record, if indeed those are the client’s instructions. A simple and more appropriate inquiry may have obviated the need for the pre-action letter that was issued, since it would have revealed the intended delivery time for the decision.

One would hope that this does not represent a shifting of standards in the profession, and it is a matter that the Law Association may wish to address.

In any event, and contrary to some of the commentary that has been circulating, the great majority of judgments of this Court are delivered either immediately after the hearing or within a reasonably short time thereafter.

While no institution, including the judiciary is or ought to be immune from criticism, we all have a responsibility to be balanced and fair. The media, in particular wield tremendous influence in shaping public opinion. Free and independent media and a vibrant and independent judiciary are both indispensible components of a free and democratic society. With that comes tremendous responsibility on both sides. However, incomplete or unverified reporting can do serious and unwarranted harm to the fabric of society, and erode public trust and confidence in the administration of justice. So here are the facts:

For anyone who is interested, our statistical information is available on the Judiciary’s website and in the Annual Report.

In the Court of Appeal, there are just over 500 appeals filed per year. Last year that would have involved 300 Civil matters (including family and matrimonial), and about 180 magisterial appeals. We have been disposing of around 200 Civil appeals per year (216 in 2012-2013) by a hearing. As of November 30, 2013, there were 19 reserved judgments outstanding for more than one year, and 18 reserved during the course of this (calendar) year. Of the 19, two had to be rescheduled because of the untimely passing of one of our brethren. So it turns out that about six per cent of the Civil matters (four per cent of the total) have taken more that a year for delivery of judgment. As of this week, nine of the 18 from this (calendar) year and six of the 15 from before 2013, will have been delivered, including the Pitman and Wilson judgments that have been the source of much controversy. As we said recently, we are committed to bringing to zero by July 2014, the number matters that are outstanding for more than six months.

The general trend is that less than 10 per cent of decisions are reserved for any significant time. The strategy has been to try to give as early a hearing date as possible, and to do the extensive preparation that would enable us to give a decision on the day or as soon as possible thereafter. However, we are always mindful that our decisions create binding precedent for the guidance of subordinate courts. Some matters require more care, and we will never sacrifice jurisprudential quality on the altar of expedition.

A proper balance has to be struck the instant case fell on the wrong side of the line.

Between 2007-2008 and 2012-2013 there has been a significant increase in the Civil appeals disposed of (from 82 to 217). This is due in part to the large flood of procedural appeals, which must be given a hearing within 28 days. They are often very complex (e.g. some of the CLICO matters). You will recall that the CPR was implemented in 2008

While a delay in delivery of judgment for more than one year is not acceptable, this is not the norm. Since 2008, the year in which I assumed office, the disposition to filings ratio has risen from 0.60 to 1.05 in the Court of Appeal. We have also been operating two short of the normal number of Judges for most of the past two years.

At the level of the High Court, the best statistics available as of November 30, 2013 indicate that, with a disposition rate of over 5000 per year (5245 in 2012-2013), in only a little over 1% of that number of cases has judgment been reserved for more than six months. The Civil jurisdiction of the High Court has maintained a disposition to filings ratio of approximately 1.0 over the past two years.

So while there is certainly room for improvement, the situation is nowhere near as dire as has been made out to be by some, and there certainly has been significant improvement over the past five years.

I feel it is also my responsibility to say something on behalf of the many hardworking and diligent Judicial officers, including my colleagues on this panel (Madame Justice Weekes and Madame Justice York Soo-Hon) who work tirelessly to serve the public who rightly demand the highest standards of performance.

I offer this information in the hope that it will restore balance and rational perspective to the debate over the Administration of Justice as we seek to continue partnering with all stakeholders in creating a more effective and efficient service for all of our citizens".
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