AS a practising attorney for the last 40 years, I can confirm what we have all known for some ten years. The judicial arm of the criminal justice system has collapsed. It is all well and good for all parties to point blame at each other for the various shortcomings, but the fact still remains it has collapsed.

What is alarming, though, is the Chief Justice has never publicly acknowledged any responsibility for the current situation the system is in. This recent incident of the Chief Justice throwing blame at the Department of Public Prose­cutions and, by extension, the director himself, Roger Gaspard, SC, for the collapse of the criminal justice system is scandalous.

This is and always has been the modus operandi of the Chief Justice for the duration of his tenure in that office. At the young age of 60 and with the retirement age for judges having recently been raised to 72, the Chief Justice will have another 12 years in office.

It is therefore quite likely that for the foreseeable future the Chief Justice will continue his blame game, and avoid taking any responsibility for the collapse of the system.

This latest attack on the DPP is just one other example of the Chief Justice’s plan to divert attention from the judiciary’s failure as well as his own. As the most senior practising silk in the jurisdiction, I feel compelled to defend the Director of Public Prosecutions.

As stated by the DPP, the Chief Justice approaches the various parties to the system with an attitude of bullying and intimidation. It used to be tradition for the Chief Justice to meet with the president of the Law Association to discuss Bench-Bar meetings in a “collaborative effort”. However, I understand that has not happened for some years.

The Criminal Justice Rules 2016 have been heralded by the Chief Justice as their grand contribution to the criminal justice system. Yet the fact remains that the judiciary’s claim to assist the system has, for the most part, contributed to the delay.

The 2016 rules have only benefited the judges, as they have thrown more work into the prosecution and defence, with the greatest burden being put on the shoulders of the DPP.

A requirement for the DPP to file and scan the judiciary hard copy documents is but an example of such shifting work from the judiciary to the DPP. More so, the judiciary has recently used Masters of the High Court to deal with case management issues with the State and the Defence. This also has caused delays, as the courts are ordering unnecessary and overly complicated preparation documents; and which is being marketed as assisting the system, while what it does is just give everyone else but the judiciary more work.

And even more so as the DPP highlighted the Chief Justice’s constant reliance on “foggy statistics” and cloudy “clearance ratios”.

The fact remains that the Chief Justice could complain that 12 indictments were filed for 2019. One cannot get around that there remain some 1,706 cases awaiting trial. And some 960 of those are matters that have been in the High Court system for ten years.

It could never be that a low filing rate is to be blamed for the backlog. Nor can it ever be that the abolition of jury trial will assist the backlog. What remains is that the judiciary’s resources have been re-enforced ever so often in the last ten years, yet the DPP remains under-resourced. More so in the last five years the Criminal Division of the judiciary seeks to be more streamlined and efficient simply by piling the extra work on to the attorneys, while judges’ support staff is increased and duties decreased.

The fact remains there is delay in the DPP’s office, but the DPP cannot be blamed for that. If the workload has increased and the resources remain the same, obviously the backlog will increase.

The cause of the backlog is not, as the Chief Justice would make it seem, due to a lack of effort on the part of the attorneys at the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, but on the fact that there are 1,706 indictments pending at the judiciary (hundreds with ten years’ pending status) and the CJ is wholly responsible for this backlog of cases.

The attorneys at the DPP work with no support staff.

In conclusion, I wish to endorse the final paragraph of Express editorial of Monday. This paragraph stated: “This newspaper is on record for calling for the resignation of CJ Archie and failing that, for the Prime Minister to exercise his constitutional power to establish an independent tribunal into the conduct of the Chief Justice in several personal matters that bear on his office... In the absence of action, this latest development demonstrates what happens when the rot begins to set in.”

CJ Archie, stop blaming others for the collapse of the criminal justice system.

You yourself are wholly responsible for this collapse.

Israel B Rajah-Khan SC

via e-mail

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