Prosecutor: Eliminate term break in Home Circuit Court

Observr staff reporter

Thursday, April 25, 2019

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ONE of the country's chief prosecutor believes the justice system must now move towards eliminating term breaks in the Home Circuit Court and have the court sit all year long, especially in the light of the large volume of cases.

The circuit courts operate on a three-term system: the first one, Michaelmas, that runs September-December, the Hilary Term, January-April, and the Easter Term, which runs from April to July.

However, speaking at the opening of the Easter Term of the Home Circuit Court in downtown Kingston yesterday, Senior Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions Jeremy Taylor, after looking at the breakdown of the cases for the term, which showed that 1,049 cases were listed, made the suggestion for changes to be made.

“So this term we have 1,049 matters to deal with between today and July 31, when the term ends, not even Hercules, with his 12 labourers, I think, can manage to deal with all the 1,049 matters in the period of time which we have been given.

“Maybe it is time for some rethink as to the way we organise the whole circuit system. To tell the truth, outside of Kingston, St Catherine and Clarendon, the three-week/four-week circuit is dead and if it not dead it's certainly on life support,” he said.

According to Taylor, all other circuits are trending toward being continuous circuit, hence consideration should now be given to make if official for all circuit courts in Jamaica to operate accordingly.

“... The time has come in terms of justice reform to do a serious rethink. Whereas we used to have resident magistrates we need to have resident circuit judges for the parishes.

“Certainly, that day is on the horizon and I think we should make preparations to meet it,” the senior prosecutor stated.

Of the 1,049 cases listed, 1,024 cases were brought over from the previous term.

Murder remains the dominant offence on the list with 546 matters. Additionally, there are four cases of attempted murder and eight cases of manslaughter.

Sexual offences were next, with 209 cases of rape, 106 case of sexual intercourse with a person under 16 years, 22 buggery cases, eight cases of sexual touching, eight cases of grievous sexual assault, six incest cases, five cases each of carnal abuse and possession of child pornography. There were also three cases of attempted rape and gross indecency.

The high number of sexual offence cases on the list was again of concern to Taylor, who reiterated his call for more to be done in treating with those matters.

“So one-third of the matters before the home circuit courts arise on the Sexual Offences Act of which the great majority is rape,” he pointed out, while noting that outside of Kingston sexual offences were the leading offences in the other parishes.

“A lot of money has been put into stemming the flow of bloody murders; that cannot be complained against. But in terms of sexual offences we are dealing with persons walking wounded, scars which cannot be seen, exploitation of our children in large numbers, from Morant Bay in the east to 'bloody bay' in the west.

“So perhaps there also needs to be some policy initiative, national security-wise in the nation with how we deal with sexual offences,” Taylor added.

Taylor said that the Office of the DPP is committed to giving its full cooperation in helping to manage the list, reduce delays, and use certain practices and procedure to help speed up matter for trials.

President of the Bar Association Emile Leiba, at the same time, said the number of cases on the list should be of concern to every Jamaican because of the burden that is placed on the Judiciary and the “herculean and mystical acts” that it is expected to perform to achieve the level of efficiency that has been publicly stated to be the goal.

However, he said that while transformations are always difficult, members of the bar remain hopeful that the statistics will change when the transformation is completed.

Justice Lorna Shelly-Williams urged both the prosecution and the defence to work harder in making use of all the tools that will put a dent in trials, including trials by a judge alone which will significantly reduce trial times.

“It seems to be something that the parties – prosecution and the defence – shy away from somewhat, but it is something that both sides should consider,” she said.

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