Significant progress being made in reducing court backlogs – Sykes Loop Jamaica

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Chief Justice, Bryan Sykes, has indicated that significant progress is being made in reducing backlogs in the country’s court system.

Providing an update during a ceremony at King’s House, Chief Justice Sykes informed that at the end of 2023 the net backlog in the Parish Courts is under 2.5 per cent.

“That’s a very significant development, bearing in mind that the international standard is between 2.5 per cent and five per cent, but we are actually down to under 2.5 per cent and there are not many courts in the region at any level that have achieved that level of efficiency,” he said. He added that numerous groups contributed to the reduction in the parish courts, noting that the achievement was two years ahead of the projected time frame.

“A lot of work went into this, the judges of the parish courts, the attorneys-at-law, the police officers, the probation services, the medical professionals, all the persons who provide third party documents to the courts would have played a significant role in the parish courts being as efficient as they are now,” the Chief Justice said.

“Now, the net backlog is at 16 per cent, it should be under 10 per cent, but a significant portion of that has to do with unexecuted bench warrants and so that is something we’ll be paying attention to in the second strategic planning period,” he pointed out.

He said the launch date for the second strategic plan will cover 2024-2028 and is slated for April 10. The Chief Justice informed that 90 per cent of the country’s total caseload is handled by the parish courts, noting that 70 per cent of the total caseload in Jamaica are traffic offences, which are disposed of in the parish courts.

“When we began this journey of modernisation in 2019, we had adopted a time standard of 24 months across all the courts, so that is any case in our court system that was older than 24 months was considered to be in a state of backlog. In our first strategic plan that ran from 2019 to 2023, we placed a lot of emphasis on the parish courts,” he noted.

He said that given the efficiency of the parish courts, the time standards for the different types of cases within the other courts have been revised downwards. “So, we have introduced in those courts a differentiated case management system where cases are classified according to the level of complexity.

The idea being that the simpler cases go through faster, and the more complex cases take a bit longer, but not exceeding 24 months… so that when the judges are sitting on a daily basis, they have now a framework within which to manage the cases and to have the intermediate steps between filing and disposition being met, so that the timelines can be met,” the Chief Justice said.

“So, where we are now we are saying that the new time standards for the parish courts on the criminal side for simple cases, it’s three months; for standard cases, six months; for complex cases, 12 months, and for highly complex cases, 20 months. We believe that that is achievable, based upon the examination of the data,” he added.

The Chief Justice reported that the Supreme Court achieved a clearance rate of 76.56 per cent. “It means that we are still not yet in a position to clear the backlog, but it is an improvement… . So this is the third year in which the clearance rate is in excess of 70 per cent. We were way down before in the 30s and the 40s, but we are now moving upward in the right direction.

So, we have to get to 100 and then get up to somewhere around 115 to 120 per cent,” he said. The Chief Justice also indicated that sustained work is needed to clear the backlog of outstanding cases in the Court of Appeal.

“The Court of Appeal, as the President indicated, is at 117 per cent, and so what that means in practical terms is that first, if that is sustained over time, in the next four to five years or before, the Court of Appeal will have cleared its backlog of outstanding appeals. And so, it means that we can now realistically look forward to a court system that, overall, will be backlog-free.

That has been achieved in the parish courts, being achieved in the Court of Appeal, and the Supreme Court is trending in the right direction,” he said.