Making court work
The organisation of the court system is established by the Supreme Court of Judicature Act, Cap. 117A. That act provides for, amongst other things, the number of High Court judges (the Chief Justice plus eight others), Court of Appeal judges (the Chief Justice and not more than five others) and the creation of rules guiding the practice and procedure in the High Court and Court of Appeal.
Previously, the judicial system operated under the 1982 Rules of the Supreme Court. It was thought that the system had spun out of control and a paradigm shift was needed to wrestle control back from the lawyers.
Consider that the “new” replacement Civil Procedure Rules which came into effect in October 2009 state that the “overriding objective of these rules is to enable the court to deal with cases justly”.
This includes “saving expense, dealing with cases in a manner proportionate to what is at stake in the individual case, expediting matters and dealing with them fairly and “allotting an appropriate share of the court’s resources” to each case vis a vis other cases.
The control of the system and all that falls within it is intended to emanate from the court itself. It can be inferred that to achieve the overriding objective the court would need to have a broad overview of the entire system and all the matters before it. An antiquated system where persons still enter information by hand in ledgers just will not cut it.
JEMS, with a “j”, is the buzzword on the lips of almost everyone involved in the judicial system plus a few others. However, most people are usually stumped when asked to explain what the acronym represents.
The Judicial Enforcement Management System, created by IBM, is a software package created specifically for the operation of law courts. It allows for oversight and management of cases using technologies such as web interfaces, IVR telephone systems, imaging, and electronic filing of documents.
The level of automation also allows for greater and more efficient statistical data collection and less human error. In other words, use of this system is intended to bring the judicial system from the dark ages and into the 21st century.
It is not hard to see how the implementation of this programme could revolutionise the judicial system and render it efficient and user-friendly. Something as simple as scheduling conflicts, with two or more trials set before the same judge for the same day (a too frequent occurrence) would be avoided since the system would not allow duplicate entries of that sort.
It would ensure that lawyers and their clients do not turn up to court dressed in their “glad-rags” and having wasted a week in preparation for a trial only to be told that the judge is hearing another matter.
Adequate management of cases and implementation of JEMS would involve a number of things which our system currently lacks. For example:
1. Routine communication between the various stakeholders such as the Registry and the Bar Association and its members;
2. Clear cut policies either by practice directions (issued by the Chief Justice), amendment of the rules or otherwise to standardise routine systems;
3. An expectation that the rules of court will be enforced;
4. Ongoing training for all stakeholders;
5. Specialised courts and/or judges;
6. Systematic electronic data entry;
7. Ongoing review of all cases within the system;
8. Employment of Alternative Dispute Resolution to weed out those cases that really should not occupy the court’s attention and can be resolved without it;
9. Clear mapping of all routine functions in the life of a case.
Before all this talk of efficiency and technology cause the trade unions to start the hue and cry about loss of jobs, the programme requires greater numbers of staff than are currently available.
We progress to another topic next week since I fear being in danger of boring myself and others.