Sykes Says Supreme Court Not Performing at Required Standard
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Chief Justice Bryan Sykes has indicated that the island’s Supreme Court has not been performing at the required standard, with the failure being attributed to what Sykes described as the “adjournment culture” within that court.
“Of the three courts — the parish courts, the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court — I must confess, regrettably, that the Supreme Court has been least in terms of the performance there. That is borne out by the data,” said Sykes.
“COVID notwithstanding, it [the Supreme Court] is really not performing at the standard that is required,” he continued.
Sykes was speaking on Wednesday at King’s House, where eight members of the judiciary were sworn into higher office.
The chief judge explained that despite improvements made in the handing down of judgments in 2019, the “adjournment culture” continues to create other challenges for the Supreme Court.
“There’s still the longstanding problem and complaints of far dates for cases, and further analysis of the data revealing the reasons for that, both on the civil side and the criminal side… is the unacceptably high numbers of adjournments.
“… and so what that is telling us is that there is still embedded an adjournment culture among lawyers, litigants and, unfortunately, some of my judicial colleagues, and it is essential that we get out of that way of thinking,” he said.
Sykes contended that adjournments must be granted in “really exceptional circumstances because that is the only way that court systems become efficient and remain efficient”.
While indicating that there are calls for more judges, the chief justice said countries like Singapore have been performing well with far fewer persons in the judiciary.
“They (Singapore) have less than half the judges we do… and when I say less than half, I mean between their Supreme Court and Court of Appeal, it’s not more than 30 ([judges]. We have 53 [judges].
“… and when you look at their [Singapore’s] annual report, they take in roughly the same number of cases on the civil side that we do, and their trial dates and hearing of appeals are measured in terms of months, not years,” shared Sykes.
In continuing, he elaborated: “So it’s not a question of numbers then, whether in terms of number of cases or number of judges, because we have almost twice the number of judges that they do and yet they are able to keep up.”
Further, Sykes argued that like in Singapore, it is critical for judges of the Supreme Court to insist that matters are heard on the days set for hearings.
Amid the challenges facing the Supreme Court, the chief justice painted an opposing picture of the performance of the country’s second-highest court.
“The Court of Appeal is on course to becoming one of the most productive courts of appeal within the region, and so it is expected that, certainly within the next 12 to 36 months, we will become the leading Court of Appeal within the region,” declared Sykes.
To support his point, he highlighted that the Court of Appeal is delivering 234 judgments for every 100 reserved. This is up from 189 to every 100 reserved before.
This performance, he said, is among major improvements to that court, including the full complement of 13 judges that is set to sit for the Easter term.
Meanwhile, Sykes revealed that the nation’s lowest courts — the parish courts — are on track to becoming one of the best in the world with a current 88 per cent disposal rate for criminal cases within a two-year period.
“… and that is an outstanding performance by any measure,” Sykes suggested.
And with that disposal rate in the parish courts, Sykes said it could become “backlog-free” in about three years.
Turning to the eight newly appointed judges, Sykes, in his remarks, said he looked forward to the continuation of excellent work from them.
“With that zeal and commitment, we know that our judiciary will continue its onward march to becoming the best in the Caribbean in… two and a half years, and one of the best globally in six years, both qualitatively and quantitatively,” he assured.
Among the judges elevated were Justices Marcia Dunbar-Green, Evon Brown and Cresencia Brown-Beckford. The trio was appointed to act as judges of the Court of Appeal from April 12 to July 31, 2021.
Also taking the oath of office as acting Puisne Judges were Ann-Marie Lawrence-Grainger, Tania Mott Tulloch-Reid and Sandria Wong-Small. Their appointments became effective on April 7.
Heather Carnegie and Carla Thomas were also sworn in as acting Masters in Chambers, with their appointments becoming effective on April 7 and May 3, respectively.