Fix the system!
Judge calls for proper case management
The Criminal High Courts in Barbados could work much more efficiently if proper case management procedures are instituted. This view was expressed by Justice Jacqueline Cornelius, who is currently presiding over Supreme Court No. 5. Over 300 cases were listed by the Director of Public Prosecutions for Court No. 5, for the September to December period of Continuous Sittings, spread among four prosecutors. Of the four, one is currently on the magistrates’ bench and two on vacation. The judge surmised that “using this list as is, even if a judge sits 24 hours a day, seven days a week for 12 months, they still could not complete it.” “The list does not indicate the readiness for hearing, the defence attorneys, or whether the accused is on bail or remanded; and all of these factors are important in determining how cases should be scheduled,” the judge remarked. The current lists contain the names of the accused, their charge(s) and the number of witnesses. “The judiciary has decided that what we need to establish is proper criminal case management procedures,” she stated. “Those procedure rules will set out the way a criminal case is to be managed to ensure that it is trial ready and should be completed well before the beginning of the trial.” “When we as judges receive a list of 300 to 400 names on it, we cannot assume they are trial ready because they all are not,” she added. Cornelius pointed out that it is a “time consuming process of calling matters up, examining files, speaking to accused, attorneys and prosecutors as to their readiness,” but she deemed it “necessary to identify the backlog”. The judicial officer is hopeful “that utilizing the video prison link will reduce the time that the process takes”. Taking the “vagaries of life” into consideration, the judge said that members of the public may have noticed that on any given day, judges “double and triple book” cases. She went on to explain that the reason for doing so is that when a trial is about to start, “the prosecutor might be on the magistrates’ court bench, the accused could change his plea or his attorney, there might be illness or accused persons might not have received their depositions.” Each of those scenarios mean that the matters will either be adjourned or in the case of an unexpected guilty plea, a proposed trial which was set for a number of days will no longer take place. Stressing that “the source of delays is one of public concern”, Cornelius said that her aim was to set a calendar for the next 12 months. The judicial officer believes that doing so would benefit everyone within the system. “We should know what we are doing for the next six or 12 months; and attorneys should always know, so as to avoid scheduling conflicts,” she added. “We have started the process and are trying to see where the difficulties might be,” the judge concluded. Commenting on the new way forward, Chief Justice Sir Marston Gibson said: “I have spoken to Justice Cornelius and together with the Registrar, we are working towards getting different parts of the criminal justice sector working smoothly.”