New tough ways to cut court case time


16-September-2011

CJ Egonda-Ntende (seated third from right) with judges, lawyers, magistrates and court staff in a family photograph

This will hopefully encourage them to speed up their cases in a manner that has been seen to work, with some accused confessing and saving court time in situations where the lawyers were to be paid in lump sum.

Chief justice Egonda-Ntende said this in an interview after the official re-opening of the Supreme Court yesterday.

He said he recently reviewed a file in a case which had taken a lawyer 17 appearances over two years before the matter was concluded.

Ordinarily it would have needed no more than five appearances and 12 appearances in the case did not assist to advance the matter in question and would ordinarily have been assumed to have been a waste of public resources and the lawyer's time, it seemed, he said.

“May be that is so until you realise that this matter was supported by legal aid. Counsel was being paid by the number of appearances. It then started to make sense. Yes it was a waste of public resources but someone must have perceived that there was a gain,” he said in his address.

“Perhaps this explains the multiple fixtures of so many matters in all the courts by one attorney,” he said, adding many lawyers rush from one court to another simply adjourning cases.

“When you consider that the number of the cases supported by legal aid in our system are substantial, it is possible that this could provide the tipping point which in the end has affected even matters that are not legal aid supported.”

Mr Egonda-Ntende said courtrooms are underutilised with judges and magistrates spending only a few minutes in them per day for a number of reasons, which he said are being explored so as to remove the barriers and speed up cases.

Since they were given more powers, magistrates’ courts are now hearing cases that would have been dealt with by higher courts, and this would have helped reduce the number of pending cases but has hardly done so because of the other obstacles he talked about.

He said the courts need at least three more judges initially to deal with its backlog of cases after which they can trim down to the number it has now, and to set up a commercial unit that will speed up business related cases whose delay hurts the economy.

He said progress has been made towards the court being autonomous.
The court reopening started with a service at the St Paul’s Anglican Church in Victoria.

From there judges, magistrates, lawyers and court staff then walked in a procession led by the National Brass Band past the Clock Tower and into the court’s car park where Mr Egonda-Ntende inspected a guard of honour.

Nation hopes to publish further details about the ceremony soon.

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