Gibraltar’s courts are straining under an increased workload across all areas of law, putting pressure on judges and staff which, unless addressed, could lead to delays in the administration of justice.
That was the stark message delivered by Chief Justice Anthony Dudley during a speech at the annual Ceremonial Opening of the Legal Year yesterday.
Addressing an audience of senior judges and members of the legal profession alongside dignitaries including the Governor, Lieutenant General Edward Davis, and Chief Minister Fabian Picardo, Mr Justice Dudley said pressures on Gibraltar’s judges had increased since the departure of Adrian Jack as the fourth Supreme Court judge.
Mr Jack, who had sat on a number of high profile cases as a Puisne Judge of the Supreme Court, left last year after his fixed three-year contract came to an end and was not renewed by the Gibraltar Government, a decision that proved controversial at the time.
At the same event last year, Mr Justice Dudley had taken the unprecedented step of calling on the government to reconsider its decision.
Yesterday, in another unusual intervention from the most senior member of the judiciary in Gibraltar, he repeated that message in unequivocal terms.
“The government needs to review the need for a fourth judge,” the Chief Justice said.
Mr Justice Dudley said the courts’ workload had increased in terms of the number of civil, family and criminal cases it was dealing with, adding that some ongoing complex, high-value cases added further strain on the diary.
While the courts were coping at present, “by this time next year there will be a backlog,” he said, adding he had raised his concerns directly with the Minister for Justice, Neil Costa.
“I know I have a sympathetic ear,” he told the packed courtroom, where Mr Costa was seated listening.
The Chief Justice highlighted too the heavy workload dealt with by courtroom staff, who processed often complex documentation “within five days” in most cases, despite being down by 25% on their complement due to factors such as retirements, maternity and sick leave.
He said it was only because of the staff’s “commitment and dedication” that there had not been an impact on the daily administration of justice.
But he stressed this situation was not sustainable in the medium term and that without additional resources, “something will give”.
Mr Justice Dudley added, however, that the Ministry for Justice was already taking steps to address the need for additional resources.
The Chief Justice reflected too on the issue of delayed psychiatric reports, a concern he raised last week during a hearing.
Mr Justice Dudley acknowledged that the delayed reports had now been completed after the Minister for Justice stepped in after the Chronicle reported the judge’s comments.
But he added: “These reports should be completed in a timely fashion without the need for judicial comment or political intervention.”
FULL STORY IN PRINT AND E-EDTIONS