Courts unlikely to clear backlog by Supreme Court deadline

Courts unlikely to clear backlog by Supreme Court deadline
September 03 16:55 2015

It now appears unlikely that Maldives courts will be able to clear long- pending cases when the one-month period imposed by the Supreme Court expires on September 12.

The Department of Judicial Administration (DJA) declined to comment, stating that a report would be issued at a later date with statistics and progress on clearing case backlog. The spokesman also declined to comment on whether the lower courts would be penalized for failure to comply with the Supreme Court’s order.

The criminal and civil courts are thought to have the most number of pending cases.

Explaining the difficulty in meeting the deadline, a criminal court spokesman said: “All of our cases have to be scheduled with the help of the police and prisons staff.”

The court depends on police officers and the Maldives Correctional Services to transport defendants from remand centers and jails located out of Malé. The Dhoonidhoo Island remand center is just a few minutes away from the capital, but the high security prison on Maafushi Island is a few hours away.

Statistics published by the criminal court show some 1,152 cases were pending at the beginning of 2015.

Of these, 20 cases related to offences dating more than five years back. Some 530 cases were between one and three years old. Another 246 cases were between three and five years old, and some 356 cases were just a year old.

Statistics for 2014 were not available for the high court and civil court. But statistics from 2013 show the high court completed 289 cases during the year and had 389 pending cases at the end of 2013.

Court officials at the drug court said it had a backlog of 80 cases, while the family court said it had 150 cases. The juvenile court has no backlog.

Court officials also said the shortage of judges and lack of courtrooms hinder the completion of cases.

The DJA last week said the government has allocated funds and a 12,000 square feet plot of land in Malé for the construction of a new court complex.

A report published by the UNDP and the Attorney General’s Office said delays in completing cases had contributed to a loss of confidence in the judiciary.

Some 23 percent of survey respondents said they would not seek help from a justice agency, including the police and the courts, due to delays.

There is no mechanism to monitor and inspect non-performance of judges and backlog of each judge to find out reasons for delays in concluding cases, the study found.

Justice sector staff identified the lack of trained legal staff in the courts, lack of resources, lack of a case management system and heavy caseloads for judges as the reasons for delays.

The DJA last week countered the report’s findings on delay in delivering justice, claiming majority of cases are completed within 1.5 years in the Maldives.