“Over the last year, the COVID-19 pandemic significantly hampered the court’s ability to effectively manage its caseload and has laid bare the weaknesses and challenges faced in an already under-resourced environment,” she said via a virtual ceremony to mark the opening of the 2021 Law Year, on Wednesday, January 13, 2021.
She added: “In several of our member states and territories, the pandemic grounded the conduct of jury trials due mostly to our inability to provide the required proper physical, social distancing protocols in many of our existing courtrooms.”
In this vein, she called for ‘judge alone’ criminal trials, adding that the time was ripe to do so.
Chief Justice Pereira said it would assist with the current backlog being experienced.
Antigua and Barbuda and St Lucia remain the states with the highest caseloads, and thus far, none of the high courts recorded a clearance rate above 100 per cent.
In the meantime, she reported an “extremely heavy caseload” for the Eastern Caribbean Supreme court.
“At the court of appeal, there were 481 appeals filed in 2019. The court heard 393 appeal matters in four court sittings and a further 456 matters in chamber hearings. The Court of Appeal delivered 55 written judgements and 348 oral decisions, amounting to 403 decisions delivered in total.”
“This is by no means insignificant, given the relatively small size of our appellant bench. Fortunately, in June 2020, we were able to increase our complement to seven,” she pointed out.
Meanwhile, at the high court level throughout the jurisdiction, a total of 7,450 cases were filed, and 4,384 were disposed of, she informed.
She said Antigua and Barbuda and St Lucia remain the states with the highest caseloads, and thus far, none of the high courts recorded a clearance rate above 100 per cent.
“This points to an accumulation of case backlog. Furthermore, on average, the overall clearance rate of member states and territories as a grouping continuously declined over the last three years and was at its lowest at 59 per cent in 2019. This flags a dire need to continued and more robust measures to be implemented in those member states and territories which are falling behind. It requires an all hands on deck approach by all stakeholders to arrest and reverse this trend.”
Justice Pereira said the factors impacting this trend are many, but in large measure reflects the persistent shortcomings of physical, human and financial resources at their core.
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