Increasing the use of alternative dispute resolution (ADR); embracing a system which would see a more balanced assignment of cases to judges; and bringing an end to the adjournment of cases because of unavailable files; were some of the key points discussed by Chief Justice of Barbados, Marston Gibson last week.


{FILE IMAGE} The Chief Justice noted 424 new cases were filed between January 3, 2012 and March 9.

He was discussing the topic Dialogue with the Courts: How Can Organisations Best Articulate their Cases Before the Courts? at the Fair Trading Commission’s (FTC) 8th Annual Lecture, just held at the Accra Beach Hotel and Spa.

The Chief Justice informed the packed audience how the rules which govern the Supreme Court were concerned with the expeditious handling of cases to save time and expense. He noted that 424 new actions were filed between 3 January 2012 and March 9.

We are not even at the end of the first quarter of this year. So at that rate, assuming that we don’t get any dramatic increases or decreases, we should have about 1700 to 2000 new filings in the high court for this year alone. Note that I haven’t even mentioned the few thousand cases which comprise our backlog,” he added.

Mr. Gibson said this could not be allowed to continue and, instead, measures should be considered to improve the existing system. He suggested staggering the schedule for the hearing of cases, which would result in four or five cases assigned to a particular time slot, instead of assigning all cases to one slot, which often resulted in a long waiting process.

As an alternative, the Chief Justice suggested the individual assignment system (IAS), used in other Caribbean countries, including Trinidad and Tobago. Contrary to the master calendar system employed in Barbados, where cases may, at times, be assigned inequitably, the IAS model features the random, computer-based assignment of cases based on a weighted system which would take into account the level of difficulty of a case.

He added that, whereas with the master calendar system every new filing was treated as new and distinct – even if related to the same case – and assigned to a different judge, the IAS system employed the ‘one file, one judge’ approach, thereby simplifying the process of case completion. This increased efficiency, he said, and could also contribute to Barbados’ level of appeal for international business, since a territory with an efficient judicial process would encourage investment.

A drawn out court process, the Chief Justice observed, should be avoided, since it lent itself to frustration on the part of individuals and businesses alike. “Can businesses operate in these circumstances and have a dialogue in our courts? Absolutely, yes. But will they be happy when theirday in court is extended to five years in court? I doubt it,” he said, adding that “if we wish to terminate our cases in a timely fashion, we have to develop an entirely different ethos…”

This extended to the role of litigants, whom he said should look to ADR to facilitate the successful completion of a case. He noted that while Barbados has “stood on the periphery” of the ADR revolution, there was an active ADR association, which he had established; a cadre of trained mediators and a drafted a Mediation Act.

However, he observed that the absence of legislation should not limit its effectiveness, as “there is a thriving ADR practice in the Eastern Caribbean courts where a lot of their commercial matters get resolved very quickly, and they have no Mediation Act“.

The Chief Justice revealed that the ADR Committee – which was chaired by Madam Justice Sandra Mason, who was involved with the ADR pilot project in the Eastern Caribbean – had “already produced a draft practice direction [modelled on the Easter Caribbean system] for ADR in Barbados…We are looking at rolling out our [ADR] sometime in April or May this year,” he said. {DATA COURTESY: NH/BGIS}

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