With his office taking blows for a series of high-profile defeats in High Court litigation, Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi has seized on speedy judge-only trials as a quick-win to be jubilantly claimed.
For anyone who has experienced the interminable wait involved in getting a verdict out of the courts, judge-alone trials are an exciting new option languishing in court. In one recent case, for example, the defendant in an 18-year wounding-with-intent case secured a judgment in a matter of 20 minutes.
Soon, another reform designed to expedite the judicial process is to be introduced with the abolition of preliminary inquiries which, according to AG Al-Rawi, constitute as much as 77 to 85 per cent of an estimated 26,000 backlogged cases.
Reforms to the judicial system are long overdue and any measure that alleviates the stress of engaging the court system will be welcomed by the public. However, in doing so, it is critical to balance quality process with expeditiousness to ensure that the delivery of justice is never sacrificed by the need for speed. This is why the process of judicial reform must place a high value on the input of all stakeholders to ensure that the proverbial baby is not thrown out with the bath water. We therefore urge all representative and expert interests to get involved in this issue to ensure that the reforms not only improve the pace at which judgments are delivered but enhance their quality.
This point was underscored by Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Roger Gaspard SC when he publicly called on AG Al-Rawi to provide more support for his office during a panel discussion on the Criminal Procedure Act of 2017 at the Hall of Justice in Port of Spain on Tuesday.
Responding to the AG’s assertion that some 26,000 cases will be eliminated by the abolition of preliminary inquiries, Mr Gaspard warned against the risk of ambition out-pacing the support system, noting: “If it is those matters would be taken out of the system and placed at the doorstep of the DPP’s office, all I ask is that the office receives certain attention. Otherwise, the AG’s ambition would remain only that.”
It was a timely and well-founded warning. Politicians are famous for going after quick and popular front-end wins while neglecting the back-end work required for turning ambition into achievement. In this respect, AG Al-Rawi is not an unknown quantity.
No one can fail to recognise the Herculean nature of the task involved in transforming the judicial system to make it efficient, nimble and capable of delivering quality justice. The system went into crisis because of the failure of many judicial and political administrators to tackle problems as they arose. In addition, dramatic social and technological changes have brought their own challenges which have left the system even further behind. Today the molehill of a problem has grown into a mountain which will soon become insurmountable if not acted upon now.
The judiciary and the executive are therefore to be commended for taking on the challenge but, in doing so, great care must be taken to avoid the short cuts that risk exacerbating the problem.