Newly appointed Director of Public Prosecutions Patrick Moran has welcomed the Office of the Auditor General’s recommendations to improve efficiencies within the local court system, especially the push for technology.
Managing the court backlog is also an essential tool to keep the wheels of justice turning, he said.
“I suppose one of the main issues of dissatisfaction is repeated adjournments of cases and that is a huge cause of concern for me and to my team. When a case is adjourned, that causes a significant amount of work for this office and indeed for the courts and no doubt for defence counsel,” he said.
Backlog was one of the areas of concern identified in the auditor general’s ‘Efficiency of Summary Courts’ report, released this month. It cited a lack of performance and financial information which made it “difficult to assess the overall efficiency and effectiveness of Summary Courts or Judicial Administration”. The report said backlog builds up when the number of cases filed for a court hearing exceeds the capacity of the courts to deal with them.
It pointed out at the beginning of March this year, there were 1,368 criminal cases pending for the Summary Court.
“About 1,500 cases are processed each year, so this represents about a year’s backlog. It was difficult to establish how many traffic cases are pending, as only closed cases were included in the data provided to us,” the report said.
The report has pegged the disposal rate for criminal cases as just over 100% which means there are slightly more cases disposed each year than are filed. The figure, the report said, is based on analysis of the number of cases filed and the number disposed over the last three years.
The auditor general’s report found that while Judicial Administration is keeping on top of current business, “the backlog is being only marginally reduced”.
The report stated, “There is also a growing backlog of civil, family, and financial cases. For example, over the last three years, 757 cases were filed in the Financial Services Division and only 38 disposed (5 per cent). This may be because of the complexity of some of these cases. Over the same period, 1,009 criminal legal aid cases were filed but only 500 were disposed, a disposal rate of 50 per cent.”
Moran, commenting on the backlog situation, said that for the criminal justice system to keep moving, the disparate elements, from victims and witnesses to investigators, prosecutors, defendant’s defence and court administration have to work together.
“If you imagine it as a clock, if one moving part stops moving, that clock stops and that case cannot progress in the way that you wanted to, and, unfortunately, those people who commit crimes or know they committed crimes, they know that if one part stops, they are going to avoid justice for some time and it’s not in their interests for that clock to tick at all,” Moran said.
He said Cayman is doing much better than some neighbouring jurisdictions in terms of dealing with court backlog.
“We are fortunate in that regard, but I do think it could certainly be reduced, and reducing adjournments is one way to reduce that backlog,” Moran said.
He added he was more than happy to assist with any efforts to bring about the recommendations to improve the efficiency of the court system.
The Office of the Auditor General report said it was not clear to what extent the increasing backlog of other types of cases will affect Summary Court time in the future, or whether maintaining throughput for criminal and traffic cases in that court is contributing to the backlog in other types of cases.
“Judicial Administration has no documented plans for how the growing backlogs in these cases will be addressed, or the extent to which this data is being considered in the planning for the new courtrooms,” the report said.
It suggested that monitoring the number of cases that are exceeding agreed time frames is a standard measure of court performance and should be included in any performance-management framework that is developed.
(from Auditor general’s report)
1,368 criminal cases pending Summary Court (March 2019)
Disposal rate: 5%
1,009 criminal legal aid cases
Disposal rate: 50%