Judge not satisfied backlog of cases is being addressed quickly enough
While there has been some impact made on the backlog of criminal cases in the system, it is not going as quickly as hoped.
Justice Brian Cottle noted this on Monday, December 21, among the many comments that were delivered at the close of the High Court assizes.
While reflecting, and thanking all of those who had a hand in seeing the assizes through, the High Court judge touched on the topic that has been a constant in the past.
In January 2020, a second criminal court was established, with Trinidadian Justice Angelica Teelucksingh appointed to preside over it. This move was specifically intended to help tackle the backlog.
When welcoming the Justice to these shores, the legal body, including the attorney general Jaundy Martin, and the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Sejilla McDowall, expressed their delight at the new addition and that the backlog built up over the years could be reduced.
However, after the court was set up earlier this year, the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic saw jury trials being suspended for some months.
Last Monday, Justice Cottle informed that in the last assizes which took place over the last few months of the year, he and Justice Teelucksingh completed 25 trials.
“We lost a few days during this session for various reasons, and that I think is reflected in the number of matters that we were able to dispose of,” he noted.
They are making some impact on the backlog of cases, but, “it’s not going as quickly as we hoped and the sad reality is that as we dispose of matters, new matters are added to the list.”
He said that there are two ways that they need to address the backlog of trials to be heard.
“The first is by redoubling the efforts by the court system to deal with them,” he submitted.
And secondly, “perhaps the more important way is by finding some means of intervention to engage our young men – as you heard from the prison delivery, it’s generally our young men – so that we can prevent them from engaging in the sort of conduct that lands them on a list for trial.”
According to the prison report delivered last week at the close of the assizes, 66 per cent of prisoners are between 16 and 39 years old and 96 per cent are men.
“It is work that all of us must do, all that we can to improve,” the Justice added.
The DPP also weighed in on some matters. She noted that throughout the assizes there were over 220 individual hearings, separate and apart from 90 bail applications.
This takes a concerted effort on the part of several parties, including the judges, the prosecutors, witnesses and the police, to execute.
“Sometimes there is an expectation that, when you look at a list that is always rounded just about 100, that all persons want to get priority but the reality is that we can only deal with matters one at a time,” McDowall stated.
Her office had recorded some success, despite the limitations, and reduced the numbers, she continued.
Turning her attention to the backlog, she said she was concerned about the number of persons on remand (being kept in prison whilst their matter has not been concluded).
“The Office of the DPP is prepared at the top of 2021 to prioritize, as we intended to prioritize the persons who are awaiting trial for murder,” McDowall informed. Those charged for murder are not entitled to bail, therefore from the moment they are arrested and charged they are housed in prison.
“This perhaps doesn’t bode well for those who are facing other charges, but there are, when I checked, about over 50 persons on bail, and yes persons want a quick disposal, but certainly we definitely need to address the amount of persons awaiting trial for murder, which typically bail is not open to these defendants,” the DPP stated.