Public Accounts Committee looks at court administration

The Public Accounts Committee heard on Monday from Deputy Governor Franz Manderson, as head of the civil service, about ways to improve the administration of the courts.

The hearing came after the auditor general released a report in November 2019 which found that the court administration does not use performance measures to manage the system and lacks a systematic analysis of how demand for the courts is changing.

The complex and multi-agency nature of the Summary Court system means that it is difficult to identify the total cost involved in prosecuting cases. Because the judicial administration does not record its expenditure by criminal, traffic and civil court, it is also not clear how much it costs to operate each type of court.

This made it difficult to assess the efficiency and effectiveness of the court system overall, the auditor general found.

The report was requested by the Public Accounts Committee to determine whether the courts operate in such a way that the public receives value for money, as well as to make recommendations.

In 2018, the judicial administration purchased the Scotia building, close to the existing courthouse, to create more courtrooms and address a backlog of almost 1,400 cases, as of March 2019.

Whether this significant financial investment delivers value for money is not certain, partly because there is no clear business case that points to the need for the investment and court users were not consulted on the design of the new court buildings, the auditor general’s report said.

Asked what measures were taken in response, the deputy governor expressed sympathy for the “difficult job” of Court Administrator Suzanne Bothwell, adding she would receive additional resources.

For instance, he said, the wide variety of duties she performed within the court system pointed to the need for a deputy court administrator to free up time “to look at the entire organisation more strategically”.

Manderson noted some recent “tremendous wins” in efficiency and service. For example, he said maintenance payments are now made directly into the recipients’ bank accounts without the need to go to the court to pick up a cheque. But he conceded there is more work to be done.

The hearing was unable to clear up ultimate responsibility to address efficiency issues in the administration of the courts.

“Clearly there has to be a discussion with the chief justice about matters that affect the efficiency of the judiciary, but it is the chief officer who will be held accountable for the efficiency of the court system,” Manderson said.

Asked what rules exist that would allow the chief officer to make administrative decisions, even against the wishes of the chief justice, Manderson said the Cayman Islands Constitution “clouds the situation”.

According to the Constitution, the chief justice “has responsibility for and management of all matters arising in judicature”.

In light of this, the deputy governor said, he was not sure who would have the final say, for example, about the number of courtrooms required.

This is an area where some guidance was needed from the Public Accounts Committee in terms of its recommendations and, Manderson said, he personally should get involved to establish clear lines of responsibility between the chief justice and the court administrator.

The auditor general’s report made nine recommendations, some of which are due to be implemented this year.

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