It is difficult to square the long list of achievements cited by Chief Justice Ivor Archie in his last report against the reality of court cases that routinely take a decade and more to be brought to a final conclusion.
One example occurred just this week when the murder case against a teenager finally came to a conclusion, nine and a half years after he was taken into custody. Clearly, whatever improvements are being made within the court system are not yet trickling through to users.
This backlog will not be helped by the rise in murders and the trend towards bail denial for possession of certain kinds of firearms. The justice system has a lot in common with the transportation system where supply never seems able to catch up with demand. The more highways Trinidad and Tobago builds, the more cars come onto the roads and the greater the traffic jams. It is a similar situation with the justice system, where the expansion of the network of courts never seems to catch up with the number of cases to be heard. The irony here is that improving the crime detection rate might actually worsen the backlog of cases.
On Tuesday, one murder accused seemed to lose patience with it all when he demanded that his case be started after being in custody for a week. He was promptly disabused of the notion by the magistrate who proceeded to adjourn the matter to a date almost six weeks away.
By now, it should be clear that the material improvement of infrastructure, procedure and systems is inadequate when the problem requires a transformational solution. The failure to unclog the pipelines running through the administration of justice, notwithstanding the substantial infusion of funds, would indicate that the problem is crying out for an altogether different solution.
As conceived from its beginning, the justice system was built top-down. Perhaps the change that is needed is a redesign of the system from the bottom up which differentiates and channels cases towards a more customised network of courts.
However, radical change towards a more logical and common sense justice system is militated against by the top-down nature of its governance which centralises control at the very top, in the hands of the Judicial and Legal Services Commission (JLSC) and, more specifically, in those of the Chief Justice as chairman.
It is almost a truism that a system cannot be expected to change itself at the risk of its own survival. Asking or expecting the JLSC as constituted to implement changes that will reduce its almost total power over the system is to ask it to destroy itself. Even in the name of progress, it is a rare system that would consign itself to history when the inherent impulse is to replicate itself in the cause of its own survival.
This is why transformational change cannot rely on institutional will; it must come from outside the system. In democratic societies, this translates into the popular will. If the justice system is not living up to its responsibility for delivering justice within a framework of law and order, then public opinion must make itself heard.