“Speeding Up Court (Criminal) Trial Process’’ is being piloted in the Enugu State High Court in Enugu as the third component of “Speeding-Up Criminal Justice System in Enugu State Project”. The lengthy duration of criminal trials was identified as one of the major causes of delays in the criminal justice process. A number of ‘root causes’ were identified to include:
- The high frequency of adjournments due to the absence of the accused person, witnesses or (Prosecution or defence) lawyers in court.
- The heavy caseload in most courts and the ‘long listing’ of cases for hearing (cause list) that means even simple cases often stretch out for long periods.
- Long-hand recording of trial proceedings by Judges which lengthens the time it takes to hear witnesses, applications, etc.
- Inadequate allocation and management of resources, including in relation to the facilitation of bailiff services, thus delaying dispatch of hearing notices, etc.
- The lack of training for Judges and other key staff in effective and efficient management of individual cases and their caseload overall. This includes the under-utilization of specific procedures such as pre-trial conferences, frontloading, etc
- The lack of effective systems to manage the case work of the Enugu State Justice and the ineffectiveness of the existing Case Management System (CMS). This prevents effective oversight and monitoring of cases and the court trial process.
Speeding up the criminal trial process will contribute to the resolution of criminal cases for awaiting trial prisoners and other accused persons. Particular focus should be given to the reduction of unnecessary delays in the trial process as well as the facilitation of more efficient management of court proceedings.
The Goal of the project is to reduce the overall time it takes to complete the trial process in criminal cases and thereby reduce the time that Awaiting Trial Prisoners ATPs spend on remand.
The Specific Objectives are as follows
- To reduce the average length of time it takes for criminal trials to be brought to a conclusion without reducing the ‘quality’ of the justice delivered.
- To increase the satisfaction of court users with the speed of the trial process.
- To improve the management of cases by judges especially with respect to addressing the problem of frequent unnecessary adjournments and slow speed of trial hearings.
- To improve communication and cooperation between the ENSJ and other relevant justice sector agencies who contribute to the efficiency and effectiveness of the trial process.
Strategy and Expected Activities
The project plans to provide support in the following areas:
- Sensitization, training and capacity building for judges on effective management of cases and where appropriate support for the development of Operational Guidelines.
- Support the Enugu State Judiciary to develop the fledgling case management system (CMS) so that it becomes an effective and valuable mechanism for tracking and managing the progress of trials both on an individual and overall basis.
- Provision of equipment and processes to speed up the pace of hearings. This is likely to include the supply of recording equipment in one pilot court and training in its efficient use.
- Assist the Enugu State Justice to establish mechanisms (Court User Groups) that enhance communication and coordination between the ENSJ and other relevant criminal justice sector agencies including Prisons, Ministry of Justice, Police and Defence Lawyers and Civil society Organisations.
- Assist the Enugu State Justice to identify and analyse gaps in resources that slow down trials and identify means of filling those gaps. This might include working with the Enugu State Justice on efficient allocation / management of existing resources, providing direct support and assisting the Enugu State Justice to engage with other potential resource providers.
- Support the Enugu State Justice to undertake public awareness and rights education activities to help people understand their rights, duties and responsibilities in the criminal trial process.