Thursday, April 18, 2024

EDITORIAL: Judicial integrity unshaken


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THIS country has long had a record of an efficient legal system in which justice in both the civil and criminal jurisdictions has been administered in a manner consistent with the highest ideals of any justice system.
The transition from the colonial system of governance to an independent sovereign country has not created problems for the system of justice and the appointment of local judges and magistrates, within the schema of the Independence Constitution has helped considerably to enhance the reality and the perception that our justice system is fair, efficient and durable.
Recently, following completion of the new Supreme Court building on Whitepark Road, there have been murmurings about minor problems associated with settling into the new building. Some have complained about the lack of appropriate seating for members of the public and the attorneys-at-law waiting for cases to be heard, and the call-in programmes gave voice to other complaints about a handrail on the balcony of the higher floors.
The recent letter from the Bar Association publicised in the Press addressed issues of a different kind. The letter alleged a dysfunction of the civil justice system and that the wheels  of our judicial system were grinding to a halt.  
It also said the “average court experience is characterised by unexplained delays, inefficient scheduling, missing and incomplete files, lack of proper accommodation for attorneys and litigants and an inability to have matters heard”.
We do not think that the Bar Association would have written this letter unless these issues were important to it, and we do not doubt that there must be some matters that may need to be addressed, but the issues raised in the letter appear to be matters more of administration  within the system.
It now seems that meetings had been held between the Bar and the Acting Chief Justice, and that decisions taken at those meetings had been implemented, and this was done even before the letter was written.
The impartiality and high integrity of our judges and magistrates have therefore not been called into question, and the issues raised seem amenable to an ironing out of the kinks in a system that has served the public well.
That having been said, there can be little doubt that the quantum of work has increased, and more actions are being filed in the courts in recent times. The increase in the number of judges has taken this into account, and the appointment of a separate Court of Appeal has helped to speed up the appeals system.
It is not clear whether there has been a concomitant increase in the staff complement in the Registration Office consistent with the increase in the workload, but some of the complaints raised in the letter may speak to manpower requirements more than anything else. It would be instructive to discover whether manpower deficiencies are in any way contributing, for example, to the retrieval of files, or incomplete files.
Sometime ago when complaint was made about the efficiency of the Court Process Office, the public was told that there were vacancies in that office, which militated against its most expeditious functioning.
We have no doubt that the letter raised issues of concern which should be addressed in the interest of the better functioning of the system, and that ongoing measures have been taken, especially since the opening of the New Supreme Court, to further improve the administration of the justice system.
We are equally pleased that the complaints such as they are, do not in the least touch the undoubted integrity and impartiality of our judicial system, and we feel confident that while the road to justice is clear, any existing potholes can and will be suitably repaired.


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