The number of backlogged cases in the High Court and Court of Appeal has been halved to at most 5,000, Chief Justice, Roxane George-Wiltshire said.
“Definitely not 10,000 cases. We have in the system about 4,500, maximum 5,000 cases. When I say maximum, I’m including divorces, civil trial matters [and] full court matters…I do not consider them to be backlog cases anymore I would prefer to classify them as ‘old rules’ cases,” Justice George-Wiltshire was quoted as saying by government’s Department of Public Information (DPI).
She explained that the High Court is now operating under a system known as the Civil Procedures Rules, which was introduced on February 6, 2017. As such, she added that cases filed before that date are being classified as ‘old rules’ matters.
The Chief Justice noted that “there are a number of them that we call live matters in the sense that they are matters that will go to trial unless the parties agree to settle but we also have a number of matters that will not be going to trial. Under the old High Court Rules, a judge must adjudicate to formally complete them.”
She informed that there are approximately 1,500 matters before the Court that require trials or a full hearing, the remaining, from estimation, will have to be passed through the Court for them to be formally closed.
According to Justice George-Wiltshire, the judges have been working assiduously to reduce the backlog and matters that come under the old High Court rules.
Under the Civil Procedures Rules or ‘new rules’ system, there are Fixed Date and statement of claim matters.
For 2017, 2,063 fixed date applications were filed and 1,452 completed.
Four hundred and forty (440) statement of Claim matters were filed of which 54 were completed.
Thus far, for 2018, 214 fixed date applications were filed with 95 completed; and 37 Statement of Claim matters filed and 4 completed.
It was disclosed that there are currently 14 High Court judges including the Acting Chief Justice. Two are assigned in Berbice, Region Six, one assigned to Essequibo, Region two, one for civil cases, who also hears Family Court cases and one for criminal cases including sexual offences cases.
The judge assigned to Essequibo hears both criminal cases including sexual offences cases and civil cases including Family Court cases.
Judges are rotated to the other two counties each session for at least three months.
Of the remaining 11 judges in Region Four, two are assigned to the Family Court, three to Commercial Court, three to the Civil Court and three to Criminal Court, including the Sexual Offences Court.
Constitutional and administrative cases are dealt with primarily by the acting Chief Justice along with adoptions and estates of deceased persons. All judges also hear appeals to the Full Court which is an intermediate Appeal Court on which High Court judges sit on a bench usually of two judges.
Justice George-Wiltshire said the backlog will be minimal or eliminated because once a matter is filed, the court controls and fixes the hearing or trial dates before the judges who are required to deal with a case to its completion.
Meanwhile, Acting Chancellor of Judiciary, Justice Yonette Cummings-Edwards said since assuming office about a year ago, there have been three sets of case management or consideration and dismissal matters in the Court of Appeal.
Justice Cummings-Edwards explained that “over that period of time we were able to dispose of in excess of 210 cases. We started from cases since 1997/1998 and to date, we are at appeals that would have been filed in 2013/2014.”
She said that there are a number of matters where the persons filed appeals in the interim while they await the next step or if they are uncertain about the next step.
“Those matters go nowhere, or they file an appeal and circumstances change and they do not wish to proceed and very few of them would file a notice of withdrawal or discontinuation, those matters remain in the system,” Justice Cummings-Edwards highlighted.
The case management exercise, she noted was intended to determine which of the matters would go forward, following which they were gazetted, notices sent to the lawyers and litigants, publications issued in the newspapers and sittings held.
According to the Acting Chancellor, “simultaneously we are doing the old matters as well as we are doing current matters and to my mind that is a good strategy for dealing with the backlog and at the same time not create a backlog, hence the need for more judges in the Court of Appeal to continue that initiative.”