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Chief Justice says lawyers to blame for court delays

Stern words: Chief Justice Narinder Hargun (File photograph)

Delays in criminal trials that caused a backlog of cases were yesterday blamed on lawyers.

Chief Justice Narinder Hargun said members of the legal profession had failed to appear in court or submit documents in advance of trials.

Mr Justice Hargun added that defendants often failed to appear in court and that arrest warrants were not always enforced.

He also criticised delays in Legal Aid applications.

Mr Justice Hargun said in a circular to lawyers: “The Supreme Court is experiencing difficulties in disposing of its criminal list.

“A fixture should be regarded as just that and the parties should start to work towards trial the moment the date is set.

“A Supreme Court criminal fixture will take precedence over everything else, including civil fixtures, and the personal or business commitments of counsel or the defendant.”

Mr Justice Hargun warned that requests for a trial to be adjourned once proceedings had started would be rejected “unless it is due to some reason wholly unforeseeable before then, such as sudden illness”.

He also advised lawyers to make sure that “fee arrangements are in place in good time”.

Mr Justice Hargun said: “Nor should defendants be able to obtain an adjournment by failing to put their counsel in funds.

“A defendant seeking an adjournment on the grounds of inability to pay will have to demonstrate that he/she has taken all reasonable steps to put his/her counsel in funds or obtain Legal Aid.”

Mr Justice Hargun added that, if overseas lawyers needed to be brought in, the courts had to be notified “far enough in advance”.

He said: “The pool of available overseas counsel is very large.

“Overseas counsel should be chosen who are available for the fixture. Cases will not be adjourned for their convenience.”

Mr Hargun appealed to defence lawyers and Crown counsel to work together to help speed up the trial process.

He said: “Successful progression of criminal trials is a co-operative venture. The aim is to get the matter tried as soon as practicable.

“To this end, counsel should return each other’s calls, and answer each other’s correspondence promptly.

“Above all, counsel should return calls and answer correspondence from the court without delay.“

Others have raised concerns in recent times about the slow pace of justice on the island.

Jerome Lynch QC, a top barrister, said last November that there was a “catalogue of errors in the system“ that meant Magistrates’ Court trials dragged on for months.

Mr Lynch said: “The system doesn’t work and the courts need to get a grip.”

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Published August 21, 2021 at 7:59 am (Updated August 21, 2021 at 7:35 am)

Chief Justice says lawyers to blame for court delays

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