DRMA breaches top criminal charges filed in parish courts in 2021 Loop Jamaica

The content originally appeared on: Jamaica News Loop News

The coronavirus pandemic has had a profound impact on the country’s justice system with breaches of the Disaster Risk Management (Amendment) (DRMA) Act, 2021, and related charges heading the list of the three most frequent criminal charges filed in the parish courts during the year.

The other two were assault occasioning bodily harm and unlawful wounding. Males accounted for 77.5 per cent of those charged.

This information is contained in the Planning Institute of Jamaica’s Economic and Social Survey (ESSJ) 2021 edition.

While the survey did not break down the charges in the three categories, there were regular reports of people being brought before the courts for breaching the COVID-19 measures contained in the DRMA that were enacted to mitigate the effects of the coronavirus. Many were charged for breaching the curfew, for not wearing a mask or for unlawful gathering.

Meanwhile, the pandemic also had two major effects on the operations of the country’s court system in 2021, with 78 per cent of hearings taking place via video or teleconference and a marked increase in the number of cases heard as a result.

Described as a multimodal approach, 64.2 per cent of hearings in the Supreme Court were by video conference, 23.4 by teleconference with the remaining12.4 per cent being in person hearings.

Thus, while the number of court days was reduced, the number of cases filed and heard increased. The ESSJ said this was the case in both the Supreme and Parish Courts. It noted that the case clearance rate, which is closely related to the case disposal rate, provided a measure of the number of cases disposed (regardless of date/year of initiation) for every new case filed in a particular period.

“The higher the case congestion rate of a court the more burdensome the caseload and the longer it will take to dispose of cases,” the ESSJ said.

It also said that there were 31,015 new criminal cases filed in the parish courts in 2021, a 46.5 per cent increase when compared with 2020.

The Corporate Area Parish Court – criminal division, with 20.7 per cent, followed by the St Catherine and St James Parish Courts, with 16.3 per cent and 10.9 per cent, respectively, accounted for the three largest proportions of new criminal cases filed.

The parish courts of St Mary, Trelawny, and St Thomas accounted for the lowest shares of the aggregate new cases filed, each with under 4 per cent.

In the meantime, the overall average disposal rate for cases originating in 2021 increased by 12.9 percentage points to 77.5 per cent. The Westmoreland Parish Court had the highest disposal rate of 89.5 per cent, while the Manchester Parish Court had the lowest with 65.3 per cent. Notably, 10 of the 13 parish courts had a disposal rate of over 70 per cent.

“The increase in the case disposal rate positively impacted the case clearance rate, with the overall case clearance rate increasing to 106.5 per cent, 10.4 percentage points higher than in 2020.”

As with the disposal rate, the Westmoreland Parish Court had the highest case clearance rate of 125.2 per cent, while the Clarendon Parish Court had the lowest at 95.2 per cent.

And, the overall case congestion rate recorded for the criminal division of the parish courts was 136.1 per cent, a 20.8 percentage point reduction compared with 2020. The Clarendon Parish Court had the highest congestion rate, 190.1 per cent, and the Westmoreland Parish Court had the lowest, 107.3 per cent.

The survey also found that guilty pleas continued to account for the largest proportion of cases disposed, with 48.7 per cent, followed by dismissed cases, 17.0 per cent. Guilty verdicts accounted for 2.7 per cent and not guilty verdicts, 11.1 per cent. Mediated settlements accounted for roughly 8.5 per cent of the cases disposed.

The conviction rate (sum of guilty pleas and guilty verdicts) increased by 13.7 percentage points to 51.4 per cent. Almost 40 per cent of cases were disposed of within 90 days and 60.6 per cent within six months.

On average, the criminal division of the parish courts took seven months to dispose of cases.