By KHRISNA RUSSELL
Tribune Chief Reporter
CHIEF Justice Sir Brian Moree said yesterday a number of systemic problems have caused a backlog of cases at the courts, particularly when it comes to criminal proceedings.
In recent months new judicial officers have been appointed at both the Magistrate’s Court and Supreme Court levels.
But Sir Brian said while the appointments have brought more resources to these courts, persistent problems need addressing.
Chief among issues, he said, was the lengthy time it takes to receive pathologist reports and forensic evidence for trials.
“We do have some systemic problems, which (are) affecting the backlog which needs to be addressed over and beyond the number of judges and magistrates that we have,” he told reporters on the sideline of the viewing of former trade unionist and Senator Keith Archer, whose body lay in state at the Senate yesterday.
“Some of those problems lead to things like the length of time it takes to get a pathologist report in criminal cases involving the death of an individual.
“Currently it takes anywhere between nine and 18 months to get a pathologist report and the case cannot go to trial until that report is obtained unless the lawyers make certain concessions.
“Also, it’s taking between 12 and 24 months to get forensic evidence in the context of ballistics and also DNA evidence specifically in regard to sexual offences cases. So, again those cases cannot go to trial until we have that evidence.”
He continued: “Thirdly, there are serious shortages in the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions. That is the office of which is responsible for the prosecutions of all criminal cases and their staffing issues.
“So, I have addressed these matters with the former Attorney General (Carl Bethel) and with the new Attorney General (Ryan Pinder) and I am hoping that we could see some movement in addressing these systemic problems, which together with additional judicial resources I think will allow us to make a serious dent in the backlog.”
The chief justice also addressed concerns about the Coroner’s Court and its spacing constraints due to COVID-19.
He said an acting coroner — Stipendiary and Circuit Magistrate Kara Deveaux-Turnquest — has been functioning in the role for several months. She has been instructed to review the list of inquests and start them as soon as possible, Sir Brian said. However, the Coroner’s Court is also facing challenges, he said.
“You need a jury. You need to have the physical space available in order to conduct inquests. At the same time complying with the physical distancing requirements. So, there are serious physical space problems with the Coroner’s Court, which we’re addressing and also the availability of persons to serve on the jury panel, so those issues are being looked at. But we do have in place an active coroner.
“The only reason why we didn’t make a substantive appointment is because the position of coroner has yet to be confirmed by the Ministry of Public Service as a substantive office.
“What has been happening is in the past, the coroner was a stipendiary circuit magistrate and so that is the position which was recognised within the civil service.
“I have asked the relevant authorities to do what is necessary to formally establish the office of coroner as a substantive office within the judiciary.”
Sir Brian said he is hopeful that this can be done by the end of January 2022.
The Coroner’s Court is also facing a spacing issue due to the COVID-19 physical distancing measures. As a result, officials are in the process of weighing the options to solve the problem.
As for a recent decision to permanently stop the practice of parading suspects into the Nassau Street Court Complex, Sir Brian said he welcomed the new policy.