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‘Chief Justice committed to professional, high-performing judiciary’

 Following is the judiciary’s full statement on delivery of judgments:

 

The Judiciary of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago has taken note of recent comments by various sections of the national community and reproduced in the media on the issue of delays in the delivery of judgments by members of the local Bench. This matter has been actively engaging the attention of the judiciary and became an agenda item for a meeting of judges of the Court of Appeal and judges and masters of the High Court, convened and chaired by the Honourable Chief Justice, Mr Justice Ivor Archie, last Monday (December 9, 2013).

The judiciary wishes to indicate to all of its stakeholders that it views with utmost seri­ous­ness all of the relevant concerns expressed. It acknowledges the problem and takes respon­sibi­lity for the state of affairs. But the insti­tution also wishes to assure the national community that it will intensify the efforts it has been undertaking over several years to realise improvements in the situation. This will be done against an under­standing that timeliness and quality must co-exist in all decision-making, if there is to be sustainable public trust and confidence in the administration of justice in Trini­dad and Tobago. 

The judiciary has realised significant improve­ment in its quest for timely decisions and delivery of judgments and disposition of cases. This has always been a concern of the institution, and the gains reflect the efforts of the current Chief Justice and predecessors over the years towards amelioration. Actions by the judiciary have included the introduction and application of technology in case management, the recruitment of more judges and masters, the creation of special courts such as the Family Court and the Drug Treatment Court to deal with specific societal issues, the creation of a Department of Court Administration to free up judges from administrative responsibilities to enable them to concentrate on their core function of judging, and the promulgation of new rules of procedure and re-engineering of its processes. 

The out-turn of all this has been that where 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 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 furore in the media. 

The task of delivering judgments in a timely manner presents different challenges in the Court of Appeal when compared to the High Court. Even though one judge may be designated to produce a draft decision, all three must collaborate and come collectively to a decision. That may involve competing opinions and several discussions and redrafts. It is not the case that the most senior or presiding judge is always responsible for producing the judgment. Work is allocated based on a number of factors including current workload or special expertise. All of the judges of the Court of Appeal work extremely hard and are conscious of the fact that a bad judgment delivered speedily can create binding precedent that seriously undermines confidence in the administration of justice. 

The work of the Court of Appeal has increased dramatically in recent years, 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 (ie, 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).

For the Honourable Chief Justice and the judiciary as a whole, this situation remains unsa­tisfactory, and all judges and masters pledged at their meeting earlier to intensify efforts towards further reversal of the challenging state of affairs.

In this regard, the meeting of judges and masters on December 9, 2013, agreed as follows:

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

• By the July 30, 2014, all decisions outstanding for

more than six months at that date will be delivered


Court of Appeal and High Court judges and masters will meet again in January 2014 to dis­cuss

further and implement measures to deal syste­matically with the issue of delay in the deli­very of judgments, with further meetings scheduled for March and July 2014 to monitor progress.

During his address at the opening of the 2013-2014 law term in September this year, the Honourable Chief Justice advanced a num­ber of suggestions for improving the admi­nis­tration of justice in Trinidad and Tobago generally, through the implementation of badly needed reforms in the criminal justice system. His proposals were

made against an acknowledgement that colla­bo­ration between the judiciary and other justice sector partners, including the executive and the Trinidad and Tobago Law Association, was the best formula to forge the reforms necessary to correct the ills in the country’s justice system. 

The judiciary has promoted this collaboration with the establishment of a Justice Sector Inter-Ministerial Committee, which the Honourable Chief Justice has been chairing for the past four years since its inception. Under this umbrella, and without any compromise on its independence, the judiciary has fostered the very best relations with the executive, and it is in this context also that the Honourable Chief Justice is surprised at wide­spread reports of a plot to have him demit 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.

In any event, the Honourable Chief Justice remains committed to a strong, independent, pro­fessional and high-performing judiciary and will continue to pursue the most robust action to ensure this is maintained. 

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