T&T: 52 accused die awaiting backlogged trials

Trinidad Guardian:–  Al­most half of the crim­i­nal back­log cas­es in this coun­try’s High Courts have been pend­ing for more than 15 years. At least 52 of the ac­cused died while wait­ing for their mat­ters to be com­plet­ed.

These fig­ures were re­vealed in the Ju­di­cia­ry’s 2017-2018 an­nu­al re­port as a re­sult of a re­view of the back­log of cas­es by the Court Per­for­mance Re­port­ing and Man­age­ment ini­tia­tive. There were 709 cas­es in the back­log in­ven­to­ry at the As­sizes at the end of last year. Of that fig­ure, 352 cas­es or 49.6 per cent were pend­ing for more than 15 years.

The re­view was aimed at “ra­tio­nal­is­ing old cas­es on the Ju­di­cia­ry’s sys­tem in or­der to grasp the nu­mer­i­cal size and na­ture of the back­log.” The de­f­i­n­i­tion used by the Ju­di­cia­ry for crim­i­nal back­log cas­es was “all in­dict­ments filed be­fore Oc­to­ber 31, 2012 and yet to be tried”.

As at the end of 2017, there were 1,480 such cas­es.

A com­mit­tee chaired by Jus­tice Gillian Lucky was es­tab­lished to ex­am­ine the records and make rec­om­men­da­tions on the way for­ward in the High Court.

The com­mit­tee found that 715 of the 1,480 cas­es list­ed were ac­tu­al­ly mat­ters that were fin­ished but not dis­posed of in the sys­tem. This was deemed a da­ta en­try back­log and cor­rect­ed.

“In ad­dress­ing the back­log of mat­ters in the crim­i­nal ju­ris­dic­tion, both at the Mag­is­trates’ and High Courts, the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the crim­i­nal pro­ce­dure rules has re­sult­ed in a sig­nif­i­cant in­crease in mat­ters ready for tri­al. The chal­lenge re­mains that while cas­es are ready to be heard, there is an in­suf­fi­cient num­ber of ju­di­cial of­fi­cers to de­ter­mine the mat­ters,” the an­nu­al re­port stat­ed.

“While the is­sue of the in­crease in the com­ple­ment of ju­di­cial of­fi­cers is ad­dressed, there were oth­er av­enues that were ex­plored to test the process re­quired for re­form.”

One such ini­tia­tive was the rein­tro­duc­tion of the Fast Track Court which op­er­at­ed as a pi­lot project dur­ing the six-week-long va­ca­tion of the High Court. In all, 12 mat­ters were dis­posed of off dur­ing that pe­ri­od be­tween Au­gust 1 to Sep­tem­ber 12.

An­oth­er ini­tia­tive that was tak­en to try and clear the crim­i­nal back­log was the in­tro­duc­tion of Sta­tus Hear­ings for those per­sons on re­mand who are await­ing tri­al and who wish to ei­ther plead guilty or com­mence Max­i­mum Sen­tence In­di­ca­tion (MSI) pro­ceed­ings.

One hun­dred and fifty-five per­sons, in­clud­ing 94 mur­der ac­cused, went be­fore the court as a re­sult of this.

“The Sta­tus Hear­ings are on­go­ing and when the in­dict­ments in the mat­ters are filed, the cas­es will be dis­trib­uted among and heard by the ju­di­cial of­fi­cers of the High Court,” the an­nu­al re­port stat­ed.