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Justice delayed is justice denied

5 March 2018 - 176   - 0

It was reported that the Prime Minister has appointed a three memberministerial committee to examine ways of expediting cases on corruption and fraud. It’s believed the delay in bringing to justice the wrong doers of the previous regime was one reason for the poor performance of the government at the Local Government election.

 

The “Law Delays” in the court system country-wide is a serious situation facing the citizens of this country. It was revealed some cases take over ten years to be concluded. William Ewart Gladstone’s famous adage; “Justice delayed is Justice denied” aptly fits the present situation. The government should be wise to address “Law Delays” as a broader problem affecting all the citizens country-wide, rather than a narrow partition political issue. The delay is harmful to everyone; the victim, accused persons, society as well as the integrity of our justice system and the administration of justice.

 

The delays can result in feelings of re-victimization in victims of crimes. Every adjournment means that victims must endure further worry and anxiety as every court appearance requires that they prepare to revisit the events surrounding the crime and to see the accused person in court once again. They may have to travel long distances to get to the courthouse, incurring personal expenses. This experience can be particularly devastating for victims.

 

The stress of long delays on accused persons – who remain innocent until proven guilty – are also be significant. They may have lost the job, experienced damage to personal relationships while incarcerated; their families are devastated and have to spend a considerable amount of money on legal fees.                

 

Multiple adjournments and appearing before courts over and over again place additional cost and worry for the victims of crimes, accused persons, and the witnesses. When it is becoming costlier in terms of time and money people tend to believe that justice goes out of their reach.

 

When people lose faith in justice system which fails to redress their grievances within a reasonable time, they might follow the path of violence. Many incidences of shooting and killing persons accused of serious crimes returning after attending court proceedings, shooting at Prison buses carrying accused persons to attend courts killing them,  killing accused persons within the court premises and killing persons accused of crimes, while out on bail, are all manifestation of this violent path.

 

As a consequence of long delays the confidence of the people has in the efficiency and fairness of the criminal justice system could be eroded. As the delay increases the connection between the commission of an offence and its condemnation weakens. Swift and predicable justice, which is seen as a powerful deterrent of crime diminishes when delays become too great. Delays also have an impact on the quality and reliability of evidence since accused persons’ and witnesses’ memories will be less clear as time passes.    

 

Another critical consequence of Law Delays is the increased remand population. The number of persons held in remand custody was larger than the number of convicted prisoners serving in country’s Prisons. According to Prisons department’s published statistics the total prisoner population in prisons in end 2015 was 113,645. Out of this number 24,086 were convicted prisoners, while 89,559 people were being held in remanding custody. In other words 21.2% were convicted prisoners and 78.8% were remand prisoners. The remand prisoners were nearly four times greater than the convicted prisoners.

 

The causes of delays are complex. The justice system is complacent and slow. It’s under-resourced. Some delays arise from inherent challenges in the nature of the criminal justice system. The delay in between in seeking justice and delivery of justice there are many pre-requisites to meet. The formalities, rules and regulations and prescribed procedures governing proceedings consume court time. Some routine and procedural matters take up court time because they must take place in front of the judge with defenders, lawyers and Police having to appear in person. The court system is still poorly computerised; hence preparation and release of documents is inefficient and slow. The courts are clogged up with large backlog of cases.

The system also aims to prevent wrongful convictions. It imposes at times onerous, but necessary, constitutional obligations on police and prosecutors. It is incumbent on police and State prosecutors to be concern about the legal rights and protections afforded to all persons charged with an offence. It’s the legal duty of the prosecution to disclose all relevant information to the defence. The fruits of an investigation which are in the prosecutor’s possession to be used in securing a conviction is equally important to ensure that justice is done.

 

Adopting better management in the system, perhaps can significantly contribute to reducing the delays. Judicial independence is the cornerstone of the criminal justice system. It must be bolstered by developing and sharing successful management tools and practices.  Such steps are needed to ensure effectively control the proceedings in courtrooms to ensure timely resolution of the matters before it.

 

Setting deadlines and stricter enforcement of rules could make certain that all parties meet their responsibilities in order to ensure cases proceed efficiently to ensure timely resolution as well as the steps that responsible lawyers should be taking to assist the court in promoting the proceedings fair and efficient.

 

Innovative solutions need to be explored and put into practice to address delays; Technological solutions that are being developed or that could be developed need to be adopted to help modernize court proceedings and management. An important shift in attitudes among all stakeholders may be necessary to take proactive and collaborative steps in the belief that delays can be reduced and proceed more expeditiously guiding on how to make this happen.

 

The added cost involved in each additional court sitting is a significant impact on the court’s resources. The efficient use of court’s resources and court time; for instance, routine matters not requiring judicial intervention and the use of courtrooms and court staff, currently requiring the Legal counsel, Police officers, victims, witnesses and accused persons to wait at the courthouse for many hours in order to address a procedural matter that takes only a few minutes and ultimately may result in an adjournment to another day. If some of these matters could be overseen by court officials other than judges would contribute to sparing the judge’s time for important judicial duties for the judges. The corporation of all participants in the justice system is needed in order to address them and find solutions to make justice less costly and less time consuming.

 

RAJA WICKRAMASINGHE

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