Majority of judgments ‘given in reasonable time’

By Ria Taitt Political Editor

Contrary to the commentary that has been circulating about judicial tardiness in the delivery of judgments, the great majority of judgments of the Court of Appeal are delivered either immediately after the hearing or within “a reasonably short time thereafter”, Chief Justice Ivor Archie said yesterday.
Delivering post-judgment statements in the matter between Lester Pitman and the State, Archie said 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”, was the norm.
However, he said the statistics showed that in the Court of Appeal, about six per cent of the civil matters have taken more than a year of delivery of judgment.
“The general trend is that less than ten 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,” Archie stated.
Archie stressed judges were mindful their decisions created 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,” he stated.
The Chief Justice stated that between 2007-2008 and 2012-2013 there had been a significant increase in the civil appeals disposed of—from 82 to 217. “This was due to part to the large flood of procedural appeals, which must be given a hearing within 28 days. They are often very complex (for example, some of the CLICO matters),” he noted. Archie said while a delay in delivery of judgment for more than one year was not acceptable, this was not the norm.
He said at the level of the High Court, the best statistics available as of November 30, 2013, indicated that with a disposition rate of over 5,000 per year (5,245 in 2012-2013), in only a little over one per cent of that number of cases had judgment been reserved for more than six months. The civil jurisdiction of the High Court has maintained a disposition of filings ratio of approximately 1.0 over the past two years, he added.
“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,” Archie said.
Archie said while no institution, including the Judiciary, ought to be immune from criticism, there was a responsibility to be balanced and fair.
“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,” he said.
On the matter between Pitman and the State, Archie noted Pitman was first convicted in 2004 and the first appeal was heard and judgment given within nine months, in 2005. “He (Pitman) 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,” Archie said.
He added it was remitted to the court and further psychiatric examinations were ordered, with the matter spreading over two years because of the schedules of several experts, including two foreign doctors. Hearing was concluded in 2010, he said.
He said at a time when the court had indicated 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”.
“A simple and more appropriate enquiry 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,” he said.
• Read the full text of the CJ’s statement
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