2303908
Chief Justice Ivor Archie delivers his address during the Opening of the New Law Term at the Convocation Hall, Hall of Justice, yesterday.

The lack of jury trials due to precautions taken by the Judiciary during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has led to only 30 indictable criminal cases being disposed of by the Judiciary over the past law term.

Chief Justice Ivor Archie revealed the statistics as he delivered his virtual address at the opening of the 2021/2022 Law Term yesterday.

According to Archie, of the 30 cases completed using judge-alone trials, only eight were for murder.

He suggested that while the situation in the High Court’s Criminal Division is likely to continue into the new law term, it would be considered and addressed.

“The criminal division will be receiving focused attention this year, as the logistics of providing enough large sanitised and socially distanced courtrooms for jury trials is likely to be a problem for some time,” Archie said.

Despite the low number of accused persons electing judge-alone trials during the period, Archie suggested that the success of the cases that were done showed consideration should be given to making such trials the standard for criminal cases, with accused persons being given the choice to elect a jury trial.

“Now that we have more experience and data concerning judge-alone trials, the time is right for further discussion about making that a more robust, perhaps even the default option without eliminating choice as appropriate,” Archie said.

Despite the performance in the Criminal Division, Archie noted that there was a slight uptick in the disposition of Civil and Family Court cases over the past year.

He was also careful to note that of the cases disposed of in both divisions, 74 per cent in the Civil Division were less than two-years-old and 72 per cent in the Family Division were less than one-year-old.

“To be able to maintain and in some areas increase total disposition figures is a remarkable feat,” Archie said.

He also announced plans to introduce a specialised court to deal with sexual offence cases.

“I have noted the backlog of sexual offence cases and the particular effect that delay, as well as the standard processes and procedures, have on victims,” he said.

He noted that despite being faced with a decrease in its development budget from $45.4 million in fiscal 2020 to $33 million last year, the Judiciary was still able to accomplish its plans.

“I believe the Judiciary has demonstrated its ability to manage public funds in a cost-effective, sufficient and accountable manner,” the CJ said.

He said the Judiciary’s prudent fiscal management demonstrated the need for long-awaited financial autonomy, especially in terms of its ability to hire specialist staff.

“Our ability to sustain and accelerate necessary transformation is hampered by the public sector’s hiring and financing arrangements that are notoriously slow and inefficient and, as I have observed previously, are in some cases incompatible with true judicial independence,” Archie said.

He said the current system of hiring through the public service also did not ensure that the best candidates are recruited for such positions.

“The focus on papers rather than competencies means that I couldn’t hire Bill Gates as an IT technician,” he said.

Archie also announced that the Judiciary was currently in the process of moving the Court of Appeal and civil courts to Tower D at the International Waterfront Centre, with several departments already relocated.

Other measures announced by Archie included the establishment of an Estates Administration Office to replace the Probate Registry, a simplification of the fees structure to avoid multiple filing fees for each case and an online small claims court.

In his speech last year, Archie criticised the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) for its slow rate of filing indictments after the completion of preliminary inquiries.

Yesterday, Archie announced that filings had increased over the past year and that the Judiciary was looking forward to working with the DPP’s Office and other stakeholders when preliminary inquiries are eliminated next year.