The new practice directions spell good news for anyone looking to file a claim in the Supreme Court of Jamaica. Potential litigants are no longer staring down the barrel of a half-decade long wait before having an opportunity to have their disputes settled at trial. This makes it a good time to file a claim in the Supreme Court if you have been aggrieved.
“Justice delayed is justice denied.” is a common legal maxim. What was equally common until recently was for claims filed in the Supreme Court of Jamaica to be set for trial 4, or even 5 years after the date it was filed. To many litigants, having to wait approximately half a decade before having their day in court felt like a denial of justice. This has been a common pain point for litigants and lawyers alike.
The Supreme Court of Jamaica, which has declared its intention to become one of the best court systems in the world within a decade, is systematically overhauling its processes with a view to alleviating this pain by improving the pace and efficiency of litigation. There were some noteworthy improvements in late 2021, when the Chief Justice, the Honourable Mr. Justice Brian Sykes introduced new Practice Directions (“PD”) outlining how civil cases will be handled going forward and highlighting efficiency as one of the court’s priorities. Two of the Practice Directions are discussed below.
Practice Direction No. 20 of 2021
Prior to the implementation of Practice Direction No. 20 of 2021, the court maintained a diary of available trial dates and cases would be set for trial on whatever dates were available at the time. Unfortunately, the substantial backlog of cases currently before the Supreme Court made it increasingly common for cases filed in 2020/2021 to be set for trial in 2026.
This PD has, among other things, reworked how cases are set for trial. Instead of fixing cases for trial dates, cases are now being set for “trial periods” (i.e., a period in which the trial is to commence). The Supreme Court is currently fixing trial periods for as early as September – December 2023. After the trial period has been set, the court will allow the parties twelve months to prepare themselves for trial (i.e., file all relevant documents, and comply with the orders of the court). Thereafter, the court will have a hearing close to the trial period to assess whether the parties are ready to proceed to trial, and provided that they are, set precise date(s) within the trail period on which the case will be tried.
Practice Direction No. 19 of 2021 – Short Notice List
This PD creates a “Short Notice List” for civil cases that can be ready to proceed to trial within twenty-four hours of receiving notice from the court of an available trial date.
The Short Notice List is reserved for relatively straightforward cases that:
- Require few or no witnesses who are easily accessible;
- Will not require more than one or two days for trial; and
- Can be tried by a judge alone.
Effects of these Practice Directions
The most obvious benefit of the new PDs is that they allow for trials to be heard far sooner. Instead of trial dates in 2026 and beyond, which was becoming increasingly common, trials can now be heard on dates as early as 2023, provided that parties and their attorneys take the necessary steps to ensure they are prepared for trial in advance of the trial period.
Moreover, it highlights the importance of having good representation since whether or not a trial proceeds will depend on the parties’, and their attorneys’ readiness.
The Short Notice List is a tremendously useful tool since it gives litigants with relatively simple disputes an opportunity to fast-track their claim to trial whenever dates become available. Say, for example, that a case set for a trial period in 2024 is placed on the Short Notice List. If at some point prior to the trial period in 2024, an earlier trial date becomes available, the parties can elect to have the case come on for hearing on that earlier date instead. This is, of course, subject to the parties’ and their attorneys’ readiness at that time.