The Chief Justice of Jamaica, the Honorable Mr. Justice Bryan Sykes, announced a raft of initiatives which are currently on stream and will be intensified in the next court term to increase hearing date certainty and reduce delays, particularly in the Home Circuit Court.
Hearing date certainty is one of several benchmarks which measures the efficiency of court operations. It refers to the certainty that cases will begin on the scheduled date.
Delivering the keynote address at a Justices of the Peace training seminar at the Jamaica Conference Centre on November 3, 2018, Chief Justice Sykes disclosed that the initiatives being undertaken to drive efficiency are being done without additional financial expenditure, judges or courtrooms.
The steps that have been taken involve the improved scheduling of matters in the Home Circuit and Rural Circuit courts.
- Registrars are now setting trial dates for 2019 and 2020 in the Home Circuit Court. According to the Chief Justice there is now a deliberate effort to reorganize how matters are scheduled in this court in order to increase hearing date certainty.
A Transition Court has been established to deal with matters not ready for trial.
Chief Justice Sykes disclosed that a Case Progression Officer will make contact with Crown Counsel in the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions and Defense Attorneys, two weeks prior to the date scheduled for the start of a criminal trial.
This officer will then identify and determine cases that will be ready for trial. The other cases which are not deemed to be ready for trial will be sent to the Transitional Court so that trials can be heard promptly at 10:00 am in all the other courts.
According to the Chief Justice, once this system is formalized, effective the next term which begins in January, courts will not spend undue time on a Monday morning putting off matters which are not ready for trial.
A similar system is also being rolled out in the rural Circuit court (the criminal division of the High Court which sits in parishes other than Kingston and St. Andrew). Effective January 2019 all rural Circuits will sit for four weeks instead of three weeks. The first week will be spent determining the readiness of cases for trial via case management and the other three weeks will be devoted entirely for trials.
Sittings for rural circuits have been set for the next five years. This will allow judges to be better able to set matters down for trial when they go on circuit.
Effective case management courts will be vital to the success of the new drive to improve hearing date certainty. The Chief Justice said to this end, judges are conducting more rigorous case management hearings. This process involves identifying the issues or facts in dispute in the trial. Facts not in issue will be agreed in evidence. This will save time, reduce adjournments and allow for the speedier completion of trials.
Chief Justice Sykes is also encouraging Attorneys who practice in the criminal courts to utilize provisions in the law relating to agreed facts and evidence thus ensuring that trials do not take longer than they need to.
- On the issue of record keeping, Chief Justice Sykes said there is a need for accurate, complete, up-to-date and readily available case files which must be easily accessible. He noted that the Government of Jamaica has invested in the development of an electronic casement management system which is to come on stream next year. This should gradually redound to more reliable record keeping. Judges will have remote access to documents filed in court to better help them prepare for matters even when they are not in the jurisdiction.
The Chief Justice said the aim is that overtime Jamaicans will see a more effective use of court time and better use of resources.