KINGSTON, Jamaica, CMC – Chief Justice Zaila McCalla says the judiciary is “just as concerned” at the length of time it takes for matters to be heard for a vast number of people arrested by the police.
Police Commissioner George Quallo told reporters that murder cases take an average of seven years to go to trial.
“When we are successful in securing witnesses for murders the cases take an average of seven years to come to trial… If this trend continues, the 967 persons we arrested for murder last year and the 284 arrested up to June 10 this year are not likely to face trial until 2024,” he added.
But in a statement, the Chief Justice said she and other members of the judiciary have taken note of the recent statements by the Commissioner of Police and that “we…are just as concerned especially as these new matters are adding to the significant number of cases already in the system.
“We are in agreement with the Commissioner regarding the likely length of time it would take to try the vast number of cases,” she said, noting that “only one case can be tried in each Court at a time and some cases will take longer than others, based on their nature and complexity”.
The Chief Justice noted that there have also been a number of occasions when several cases have been ready for trial in the limited number of Courts, but only one could be accommodated in each Court on a given day.
“Within the constraints of available human and physical resources, we in the Judiciary have been undertaking several Case Management Initiatives to increase the efficiency of the operation of the Courts and improve service to the public.”
Justice McCalla said these include agreement evidence to enable cases to be tried only on relevant issues; advance sentence Indications in order to encourage more persons to plead guilty if they are in fact guilty; specialised Criminal Courts to deal with appropriate cases expeditiously and outreach sensitization sessions in various regions across the island with all stake holders including defence attorneys, prosecutors, police officers and medical practitioners to encourage these groups to embrace new measures to achieve greater efficiency.
She said after these sessions it has been emphasized that in order for these measures to be successful, it is not enough for accused persons to be arrested and charged.
“Cases must be properly investigated, case files adequately completed and most importantly, presented to the Court at an early stage so as to enable accused persons to be aware of the case that they have to meet.
“When files are not completed at an early stage, defence attorneys have indicated that it is difficult to properly advise their clients as to whether or not they should enter guilty pleas.”
The Chief Justice said despite “our best efforts however, it must also be noted that the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Finance have responsibility to provide adequate physical and human resources to enable the Courts to handle the increasingly heavy case loads.
“The provision of these resources has historically and continues to be woefully inadequate. This has negatively impacted the Courts ability to deal with the vast and increasing number of cases in the system,” she added.