Retired Chief Justice Sir David Simmons has accused judges of contributing to the perennial problem of case backlogs in the courts.
He voiced this concern as he delivered a lecture on Sustaining the Judicial Branch of the Government for 50 Years after Independence, at the Supreme Court last Friday night.
Sir David said while the decades-old problem was not unique to Barbados, judges’ inordinate delays in handing down decisions were hindering the delivery of justice, noting that the situation had attracted criticism from the Trinidad-based Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) and members of the public.
Sir David said apart from the systemic delays, the indecisiveness of judges also contributed to the buildup of cases.
“A judge who cannot make up his or her mind is doing a disservice to the system,” he asserted.
The former Attorney General quoted late Prime Minister Sir Harold St John, who once said: “One must understand that if you are to be a judge, you must not only know the law and be fair, tolerant and a good listener, but you must have the capacity to make up your mind. If you do not have those qualities, you should be disqualified from being a judge…”
Sir David told the audience, which included members of the legal fraternity, that there were instances where people had been forced to wait up to seven years for a decision to be handed down – a practice he deemed inefficient and unfair.
“Judges must remember that the parties have a right to a decision. That is one of the elements of a fair trial. And when we take into account that since 2005 judges have had judicial assistance, there really is no compelling reason for judges not to give his or her decision within six months after the end of the trial,” he contended.
“A judge who is sensitive to his or her professional responsibility must use every available amount of time . . . to write the decisions.”
He also lamented that, historically, the court has been too generous in granting adjournments, and too many decisions were reserved when more oral decisions could be handed down.
“At the end of the evidence, at the end of the submissions, the judge . . . should be able to have made up his mind on the evidence,” the retired jurist said.
“On the 20th of October, I read a newspaper report that the Court of Appeal of Trinidad and Tobago had given an oral decision immediately after the conclusion of the respective arguments on the validity of the electoral process in certain constituencies in that country. . . . Chief Justice [Ivor] Archie promised to give his written decision . . . but he let the parties know there and then in point form,” Sir David noted.