At least three Senators with ties to the legal profession have welcomed Government’s decision to increase the number of judges from eight to 13, but recognise that there are many more issues to address in reducing the considerable backlog of cases presently before Barbados’ courts.
Speaking during debate on the Supreme Court of Judicature (Amendment) Bill 2019 in the Upper Chamber, Deputy President of the Senate, Rudolph Cappy Greenidge, partially attributed the backlog to the fact that “Our society has become a much more litigious one. Things that would not have come to court before are before the court now. For example, more people are coming to court on personal injury matters relating to accidents. But I think insurance companies should make a greater effort to settle some of these claims out-of-court, and that will help reduce the backlog to some extent.”
Senator Greenidge added that sometimes judges took too long to write up a decision following a court session. While he acknowledged they had a lot more ‘on their plate’ now than before, he said “They should try to summarise the proceedings of any case they hear on the same day, so that it will be easier to make a final decision on it.”
Beyond that, constant adjournments were also a problem, and he noted that recently, two of his clients died without ever getting their day in court on matters that were outstanding for seven years.
Senator Monique Taitt also contributed to the debate. She stated, “It is not fair to blame the judges for the delays in the court system, because they are very competent and they are doing their best under the circumstances. But if a judge is dealing with a family matter, and then he is called to sit at the Assizes, he has to put off dealing with the family matter until the Assizes are over, and that might be six to nine months later.”
She also said the environmental problems at the Whitepark Road Supreme Court building were a contributing factor. “Files we need for certain cases are still on that compound, but we would be endangering the lives of the people we send in there to retrieve them owing to the mould and the other issues in that facility, so those cases cannot be heard because we cannot get access to the files.”
She was also concerned that the Registry was closing at midday now rather than at three in the afternoon owing to a shortage of staff, and suggested more use of mediation within the justice system. “It would be cheaper to invest in mediation than five more courts. A court means you have to set up an office for a judge, marshal, secretary, legal assistant, and an orderly, plus a vehicle. Mediation means ‘let’s just get this matter going’, and it should be the norm rather than an exception.”
Another concern both Senators Greenidge and Taitt raised was with respect to the Family Court. Greenidge noted that about 75 per cent of the matters coming before the court were family-related, and the delays created social and psychological problems in certain cases.
Citing an example, he said “In divorce cases, you may have a situation where the two parties are already divorced, but they are still living in the same house because they are waiting on the court to find out what percentage value of the property they are entitled to, which can be very uncomfortable, especially where children are involved.”
Taitt suggested, “There should be more than two judges assigned to the Family Court, because it is a specialized area that can be highly emotional and all too often it is not given the attention it deserves.”
In terms of the Judicial Appointments Committee, which will oversee the recruitment process, Senator Kevin Boyce believes it is “a useful initiative that will bring greater credibility to the way in which judges are selected.” Greenidge and Taitt expressed similar
sentiments, saying that it would dispel the notion that such appointments were politically motivated.
Boyce also welcomed the Commercial Court, which he said was something his colleagues in the legal profession wanted for quite some time now.
“I would say the judges we have now are well versed in commercial matters, and it will not be limited only to banks and conglomerates, but will also be used to settle financial disputes and other business-related issues.” He also said the Registry needed more staff in order to do its job more efficiently.