We must be careful that the efficient administration of
justice does not become a casualty in the battle between Chief
Justice Sat Sharma and Prime Minister Patrick Manning.
Despite the swirling controversy concerning the attempt to
investigate allegations against the CJ, the latter, as captain,
has to maintain a firm grasp of the helm and steer his ship
with its all-important cargo of justice in the right direction.
Last week, the State conceded that it was responsible for
the death of nuts vendor Selwyn Andrews, who died in police
custody on August 5, 1994. The writ was filed in 1995. Incredibly,
the case took 10 years to come up for hearing, with the State
simply capitulating and accepting liability.
Andrews mother and his three young children will finally
have something to rejoice about but one can hardly ignore
the harrowing effects of this long and tiresome journey for
The most noticeable thing about the judiciary in the last
ten years is the genuine attempt by most to try and clear
up the enormous backlog that existed. The inordinate delay
in getting cases heard undermined public confidence in the
administration of justice and makes the law look like an ass.
By and large, things have improved considerably. In the Court
of Appeal, in particular, there is now no backlog. The backlog
in the High Court has been reduced and the waiting time for
a trial date slashed by more than half. But new problems have
cropped up and old ones continue to plague the system.
One of the most important developments that has hampered the
efforts of judges to clear up the backlog is the phenomenal
amount of judicial review and constitutional cases being filed.
By their very nature, they require prompt attention and are
oftentimes done at the expense of older matters that have
been in the queue for much longer.
The passing of legislation such as the Freedom of Information
Act and the Integrity in Public Life Act has also spawned
new and unforeseeable litigation.
Thus, while the backlog is being reduced, the workload of
the judiciary has been increasing, with the result that the
full impact of the fine efforts on the part of most judges
might not be as conspicuous as it should. We definitely need
more High Court judges.
One of the major problems in the High Court at present is
the long delay experienced after a trial in getting judgment
from the court. There is nothing more frustrating than this
for a litigant because it adds to the agony and suspense they
experienced in having to wait for a trial date in the first
place. Having had a trial, they expect swift justice and this
is not always the case.
The blame is not necessarily that of the judges either. As
they move from one case to the other each day, it is understandably
very easy to become engulfed in the whirlpool of cases. Judges
need to be given time-off away from the courts so that they
can write judgments. The official vacation time is simply
not enough as they, too, are only human and need time to relax
with their families and friends.
The only way this can be accomplished is by increasing the
number of High Court judges.
At present, there are many important cases in the public interest
and others where society and private litigants have been awaiting
judgment for far too long. I was only recently given judgments
in some matters I had completed some two to four years ago.
Apart from these, there are others where over a year has passed
or the one-year anniversary is fast approaching. I am sadly
not the only attorney in this position.
Just off the cuff, from memory alone, in terms of high-profile
cases, no judgment has been delivered in the case brought
by former chairman of the Unit Trust Corporation, Hubert Alleyne
against the PM and the cases brought by former Industrial
Court judges and former chairman of the Environmental Commission,
retired Justice of Appeal Zainool Hosein against the State
to challenge the refusal to re-appoint them.
These are important matters in the public interest and require
None of this is intended as a criticism of our judges. It
is but an observation, which I hope will highlight the predicament
of both the litigant and an overworked judiciary and the need
for CJ Sharma to hold onto the reins very firmly along this
very bumpy road.
He cannot shy away from the fact that more resources are needed
by the judiciary as a matter of urgency to ease the strain
on the system.
He must be strong and call upon the executive for what is
needed, lest we return to (or some may say remain stuck in)
the days when the law looked like an ass.