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CJ to rule on Pitman appeal

 Chief Justice Ivor Archie will deliver judgment in four cases on December 18, among them that of convicted killers Lester Pitman and Gerald Wilson, a statement from the Judiciary said yesterday

It also denied a report in the Guardian that an issue was raised in a meeting earlier this week with Archie and judicial officers of a plot to get the CJ out of office.

“No such assertion against the State was made in the meeting of Judges and Masters on December 9, 2013, contrary to reports appearing in the media,” the statement said.

The cases of Pitman and Wilson became controversial within the past two weeks after their attorney, Criston Williams, sent letters to the Solicitor-General and Supreme Court Registrar.

Williams was critical of the CJ and queried why it was taking three and four years, respectively, to have judgments delivered in their cases in the Appeal Court.

Williams also said he would raise with the Prime Minister the matter of impeachment of a Chief Justice under Section 137 of the Constitution. 

Williams, however, said subsequently that in raising the issue it was not his clients’ intention to embarrass the CJ.

The statement yesterday came in the wake of the response the issue has caused in legal circles, as the Law Association and top lawyers have weighed in on the matter.

The statement said the Judiciary had noted recent comments in the media on the issue of delays in the delivery of judgments by members of the local Bench and it was the focus of a meeting on December 9 chaired by Archie.

Another meeting is scheduled for January 2014 to deal with delays in judgments, with further meetings scheduled for March and July next year to monitor progress.

“Previously, there were matters awaiting determination for as many as ten years, the more recent picture is one in which any matter before the court for more than three years is an exception. 

“Our most up-to-date statistics reveal that there are 37 matters awaiting decisions from the Court of Appeal, with 18 of these for more than one year. 

“Two of the 18 have to be rescheduled because of the unfortunate passing of one of the judges of the Appeal Court. Of the remaining 16, the Honourable The Chief Justice is a part of the panel in five matters. 

“Notices have already been issued informing the parties that judgment will be delivered in four of them on December 18, 2013, including the cases of Lester Pitman and Gerard Wilson.  

“In addition, a further two of those matters will also be delivered before December 20, 2013. Of the 18 matters reserved for judgment in 2013, notices have been issued to the parties that decisions in nine of them will be delivered on or before December 18, 2013. 

“In summary, therefore, 16 reserved decisions will be given before December 20, 2013. It needs hardly be mentioned that work would obviously have been ongoing on these matters before the recent furor in the media,”  the statement said. 

The statement pointed out timely judgments present “different challenges in the Court of Appeal when compared to the High Court”.

In addition, the workload of the Court of Appeal has seen a dramatic increase, the statement said.

“...And the issue of delay is further complicated by the fact that the court has been inundated by procedural appeals which, according to the Rules of Court, must be given a hearing within 28 days.

“Statistics previously published in the Judiciary’s 2013 Annual Report and available on the Judiciary’s website show that the number of Civil Appeals disposed of (excluding non-compliance matters) rose by over 150 per cent from 82 in 2007-2008, to 217 in 2012-2013. 

“The current Chief Justice assumed office in 2008. During the same period, the clearance rate (i.e. the ratio of matters disposed of in a given year to matters filed) rose from 0.60 to 1.05.

“For a significant part of that period, the court has been operating at reduced numerical strength owing to the retirement of one Appellate Judge and the injury and untimely death of another. Additionally, the statutory quota of judges has never been filled. 

“For both the High Court and the Court of Appeal, there is an inexorable arithmetic that constrains the delivery of judgments. 

“The more matters that are fixed for hearing, the less time there is to write judgments. Nevertheless, the High Court has been able to maintain a disposition to filing ratio of approximately 1.0 in recent years and the majority of matters are disposed of within two years of being filed (this includes case management, trial and delivery of judgment).”   

This still was not satisfactory, the statement said, and the December 9 meeting further agreed that:

• By March 31, 2014, all decisions outstanding for more than 12 months at that date will be delivered.

• By July 30, 2014, all decisions outstanding for more than six months at that date will be delivered.

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