Court partners suggest ways to end overdue cases


20-September-2012

He said he was only wondering if some of the measures used elsewhere could be applied here, adding his voice to suggestions made by the Executive and the National Assembly with the aim of gnawing away the cases which had accumulated over the years.

Speaking during the church service that preceded the re-opening of the Supreme Court, Bishop Wong asked if it is not possible, for example, for Court of Appeal (CA) judges to help out when their court is not in session.

Among the people attending the ceremony was CA president Francis MacGregor.

The National Assembly had passed a motion urging the judiciary to speed up their reform and put in place a mechanism that will be effective to clear old cases before the court, “so that offenders who are waiting will have their sentences finalised …”.

Chief justice Fredrick Egonda-Ntende welcomed the interest shown by the institutions but in an interview with Nation said laws would have to be changed to allow the CA judges to work at the lower courts.

He noted judges of the Supreme Court can sit on the CA bench but the reverse is not allowed by current law.

Saying it was not clear what the assembly meant by “offenders”, Mr Egonda-Ntende said “suspects or accused people or defendants in court” need to be referred to as such “because they are innocent until proven guilty”.

For the same reason, the chief judge expressed reservations regarding a statement from the assembly which said:

“With the increase of crime which is affecting our country, the assembly requests that the attorney general’s (AG) office and the judiciary immediately establish a clear guidance on all offences so that offenders should not be released on bail and to make sure that the victims are being protected, and stop the offender from continuing to repeat the same offence.”
Mr Egonda-Ntende said:

“Obviously I cannot speak for the AG’s office. I can only speak for the judiciary. If by reference to offenders the motion means accused persons who have been convicted of some crime before the court my response is that the guidance is contained in the Constitution of Seychelles, the Criminal Procedure Code Act, and the various decisions of the superior courts of this country. Bail is available only in exceptional circumstances in relation to the offenders.

“If the reference to offenders meant accused persons whose trials are not over yet, the use of the word ‘offender’ is unfortunate as at this stage an accused person is presumed innocent, in accordance with the Seychellois Charter of Fundamental Human Rights and Freedoms, and ought not be referred to as an offender, as no decision to that effect has been made by a court of competent jurisdiction, much as in the eyes of the public or the victim, the perception may be that an accused person is an offender. That person is a suspect.”

He said the law provides some of the considerations that a court must take into account in considering whether or not to grant bail, for example if there are substantial grounds for believing that the suspect will fail to appear for trial or will interfere with witnesses or will otherwise obstruct the course of justice or will commit an offence while on release.

“Obviously it is clear that where an accused is suspected of committing further offences while on bail and has been charged with those offences this is something that ought to be taken into account while determining whether or not he or she qualifies to be admitted to bail.  It is the duty of the republic to show any consideration that should deny an accused person from being released on bail. The courts cannot, on their own, conclude that such considerations exist. To the contrary the default position is that ‘the court shall release the suspect unconditionally or, where the court has reasonable grounds for doing so, upon reasonable conditions unless the court, having regard to the circumstances specified, determines that it is necessary to remand the suspect in custody’.”

He said the criminal justice system has as its primary objective the security of all people living on these islands and their property.

“Crime threatens the life and limb of all residents and the security of their property. The courts, as one of the agencies in the system must play their role, in accordance with the law. I know that the courts do not work in a vacuum and must be aware of circumstances obtaining in society at any one particular time.”

He said the court is studying the possibility of setting up small claims courts to deal with small amounts of money helping quick recovery of money due from another person.

“The procedure is simple. No lawyers are needed. This is one area we shall have to initiate a study into and see how it can best be introduced in Seychelles,” he said.

Mr Egonda-Ntende however regretted that the judiciary has scarcity of staff including judges and administration staff.

He told Nation of a number of programmes he wishes to request for funding for but cannot do that because he is himself “bogged down hearing cases” and there is no registrar while newly created posts are still vacant.

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