Move to ease court backlog

Judicial officials have initiated action to clear a backlog of civil court cases covering a 20 year period, and about which the legal fraternity has been complaining.

And while the response to Chief Justice Sir Marston Gibson’s February 1, 2013 practice direction on backlog reduction/status is yet to unfold, the move was welcomed today by President of the Barbados Bar Association, Andrew Pilgrim.

The head of the 800-member organisation told Barbados TODAY the directive which covered High Court civil cases “filed under the Rules of the Supreme Court 1982 within the period January 1, 1990 and September 30, 2009, and which remains undetermined”, was an important part of the effort to “get things back on track” with the island’s justice system.

In his four-page practice direction, Sir Marston said the new effort was partly intended to get the Backlog Reduction Project started in 2006 going again, thereby determining “dead” cases and those that could be heard to a conclusion.

“The introduction of the Barbados Supreme Court (Civil Procedure) Rules, 2008 on August 8, 2008, and the replacement of the Rules of the Supreme Court 1982 with effect from the first day of October 2009 initiated reform in civil procedure which is aimed at more effective and efficient management of all civil cases filed in the Court,” the CJ noted.

“An integral aspect of the reform process is the identification of backlog cases, which had not been determined prior to the commencement of the Supreme Court (Civil) Procedure Rules, 2008. The Backlog Reduction Project started in 2006 with the conduct of Status Hearings on Inventory Lists of the civili cases that were filed in the Court from January 1, 1990 to September 30, 2009, under the Rules of the Supreme Court 1982 the status of which was unknown.

“The process was, however, not fully completed. It is proposed to restart the Backlog Reduction Project on a firm procedural basis using a Practice Direction under which the status of these cases will be determined, and steps taken to have ‘dead’ cases disposed of procedurally and ‘live’ cases put on track for trial or other determination within the process that has come into effect with the introduction of the Supreme Court (Civil Procedure) Rules, 2008,” he added.

The head of the local judiciary said as the court moved to determine the status of the two decades of cases “in a timely manner”, the Registrar of the Supreme Court would be “forthwith” preparing annual inventory lists of backlog cases for the period January 1, 1990 to September 30, 2009, noting the lists would including “matters which have been adjourned for report from previous status hearings”.

The court is now inviting persons with unfinished cases during that period to contact their attorney(s)-at-law, while lawyers would also be contacted directly by the Registrar, to state whether they still represented the individual in the specific cases.

Lawyers will have 10 days to say if they no longer represent the named litigants, 30 days to say if they intended to proceed with the civil actions. Pilgrim said today that the entire Bar membership “has been circulated” and informed of the new practice direction. “We welcome it! It is one of many necessary steps to get things back on track. We were consulted and we support it,” he said. (SC)

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