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The Editor Speaks: Legal Aid and clearing backlog of cases

Colin Wilsonweb2In our Front Page story today “Chief Justice’s Report to the Opening of The Grand Court, 13th January 2016” Chief Justice Anthony Smellie confirmed the importance of the legal aid reforms saying it “cannot be overstated either from the point of view of the public need or from the point of view of providing a slightly more realistic hourly rate for those hard working and dedicated practitioners who represent persons on legal aid briefs”.

He said the chief magistrate has been focused on addressing the Summary Court backlog and, where defendants are represented by lawyers, there has been considerable success at agreement over cases and moving them forward. It was not surprising, however he said, that agreement “has not proven to be readily attainable where defendants are unrepresented”, which was common in summary cases.

“This situation is a compelling example of the cost effectiveness of providing legal representation for all offences which could result in a defendant’s loss of liberty, and so it is a very welcome development that the new legal aid regime will allow for representation for wider categories of offences in the future.”

He noted the small group of criminal defence attorneys prepared to work on legal aid rates, regardless of the increase, still face a mountain of work and many hours that will not be billed. With the introduction of a duty counsel programme to provide representation in the criminal Youth Justice Court and the need for counsel to be on call for the police station, defence attorneys willing to do legal aid work will be in even greater demand.

The Chief Justice said, “In the Criminal Division, 108 new indictments were filed in the Grand Court last year and it is in this Division that the now perennial concerns about delay affecting the liberty of the subject, still persist

“As at 31 December 2015, there were 149 indictments awaiting trial, an increase of 31 compared with the year before. During 2015, only 72 indictments were completed, including 23 which were laid in 2015 itself. The rest of those laid in 2015, that is 85, were carried over. “

He stated in 2014 the indictments carried to 2015 were 75.

“This therefore is a troubling trend, even more so than when I reported last year. It has developed despite out best efforts, as you have heard with the crucial support of the visiting judges (special mention to Justice Mettyear) and court staff, to try at least two indictments simultaneously throughout the year.

“The trends clearly show that we must try more than two indictments at once in order to address the back-logged indictments and prevent further back logs but this will not be possible within the existing court facilities and without even further disruption and delays in the Summary Courts about which I have already spoken.

“And so again I must remind us that the chronic lack of court space has become a real matter of national concern: it affects our ability to dispose of the very many complex and important cases coming before the FSD and of even more immediate concern, our ability to provide justice in a timely manner in cases which involve the welfare of children and the liberty of persons.

“I therefore welcome the declared commitment of the Hon. Premier on behalf of his Government that this problem is now to be at long last addressed.”

I welcome the news the problem of lack of court space is going to be addressed.

As it was in 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012 ………..


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