– Litigants, lawyers say volume overwhelming
By Kiana Wilburg
It is popular opinion that the presence of only one Judge in the Commercial Court is grossly affecting the timely
settlement of business disputes which was essentially the principle that inspired its establishment in the first place.
Litigants, lawyers and even investors have opined that Guyana’s Commercial Court which is housed in the High Court and presided over by Justice Rishi Persaud, “has too much work before it and it is simply an impossible task for it to be handled by only one judge. It is in desperate need of another Judge or else it will continue to fail in having an appreciable impact on business disagreements.”
One petitioner expressed in an interview with Kaieteur News that quite often there is a situation where cases would be deferred to several adjourned dates without trial starting for several months.
Another litigant said, “The court is clearly overwhelmed and because it is overwhelmed, it could give the impression that the Judge is not efficient, but of course that too would be unfair to Mr. Persaud, because it is not his fault that he has to carry out the duties on his own. But at the end of the day it is the litigants who suffer. Can you imagine having millions of dollars tied up in a court case and it has not even started?
“It is absolutely ridiculous and while it may not be entirely the fault of the Judge, the Judicial Service Commission has to take note of this. Aren’t they concerned about the impact this can have on potential investors and even the business community? It is a deterrent and we need to pay attention to it, because all the while it is our monies that are being tied up and the inefficiency just discourages you from investing your money, because when you run into problems and you turn to the courts for justice it just takes forever. It is sickening.”
Attorney at Law, Christopher Ram also expressed his concern about the Commercial Court. Ram emphasized that there
is absolutely no argument to negate how imperative it is for another Judge to be appointed to the Court. He said that the number of unresolved cases with regard to this court could also have an impact on the business community and stressed that the matter should be dealt with, with some urgency.
Lawyer and Leader of the Alliance For Change, Khemraj Ramjattan, who appeared before the court several times had said that the Judge had done “a commendable job in settling certain matters” but considering the influx of certain cases since its establishment, Justice Persaud would need assistance. Persaud, Ramjattan had opined, is overburdened and as a result, other cases will be delayed.
Ramesh Dookhoo, Chairman of the Private Sector Commission had been more explicit in stating that, “the Commercial Court is not working up to speed,” and that he would hope it improves sooner than later.
He had also said, “I don’t think it is overwhelmed, but it needs to be more efficient. The reason we supported the establishment of the court in the first place is because of the backlog of commercial cases that was occurring in the regular court system. The Commercial Court initially started out with some amount of promise, but it is not working as efficiently as it should be. We need to get this court in order. Its efficiency would benefit the investment community once this is done. The solution I believe is that the court needs another judge. There is too much to be done and one judge cannot do it alone.”
Also weighing in on the matter was Head of the Guyana Bar Association, Ronald Burch-Smith. In a brief telephone interview, he said that he shared the concerns expressed with regard to the Commercial Court and is generally concerned about the pace of litigations.
He noted, however, that there are some steps being taken to improve this and he hopes
that the initiatives being undertaken to improve the justice system will be implemented soon. Burch-Smith reminded of a recent seminar which was held for lawyers, judges and court staff, which sought to raise awareness about the flaws of the judicial system and apprising of steps to be taken to improve such.
For example, the Bar Association head spoke to the fact that the 1955 laws are said to be too inefficient or inadequate to deal with the problems in this developed time. He said that there was also mention at the seminar of the need for proper resources for the court staff and even improved salaries and wages to improve the work of those belonging to the legal fraternity.
He said, too, that it is not only unfair to expect the Judge to perform the tasks of two or three judges, but the litigants must also bear in mind the fact that it is physically impossible for one man to achieve that feat, for his court is the chamber for all business disputes.
Burch-Smith said that while he supports the appointment of another judge, there is also need for the improvement of resources. He highlighted on this premise, that there is need for equipment that can enable the court to have verbatim reports of proceedings. This, he stressed, would also help to improve the efficiency of the court.
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