Response to PAC report on Judiciary spending

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DEAR EDITOR, please refer to the article in the Island Sun Issue no. 3054 of November 7, 2018, at page 3, headed “Judicial spending on Contingency Warrant concerns PAC”, which contains inaccurate material and which we wish to correct herewith.

It is important to note that the case, Austree Enterprise Pty Ltd and Others v. Shiyao Guo and Others cc 322 of 2012 (also referred to as “the Town Ground Plaza case”), during directions hearings, was initially given an estimate time for trial of 4 months, which meant that none of the current judges would be able to hear that case in view of their already heavy work commitments.

This was the primary reason why another judge, styled a “Commissioner of the High Court”, had to be recruited to hear the case.

The costs of a Commissioner to hear the case, which included costs of travel, accommodation, per diems, sitting allowances etc., estimated at $1,380,064 for the duration of 4 months explains why a Contingency Warrant (“CW”) for that amount was applied for.

The Commissioner took carriage of that case and commenced hearings from the 12 – 16, and September 19-23, 2016; 27 – 29 March 2017; 2 April 2017; and 10, 11 May 2017. This partly explains why that money had to be carried over from the year 2016 into year 2017 as the case could not be concluded in 2016. It was incorrect therefore to suggest the money had been locked away, for it was especially budgeted and reserved for a particular purpose (trial), until completed.

The trial was not completed at the High Court until May 2017 and judgement delivered on or about July 3, 2017. By the time payments were raised in or about October 2017, difficulties were encountered to release payments due to cash-flow problems experienced by the Government then.

No one anticipated that it would take half the time estimated to complete. Due to rigorous and efficient management of the case and trial, money has been saved. The case has been completed right through to appeal at the Court of Appeal. The National Judiciary therefore had to spend only a total of $351,429.04, approximately a quarter of the CW and explains why there was money left over from the CW at the conclusion of trial.

As usual by end of the budget year, any funds not used were re-absorbed back into the Consolidated Fund. We are disappointed by the criticisms of PAC for failing to appreciate how those funds had been utilised and not misused or misspent in anyway.

It was unnecessary, condescending and inaccurate as well to say that the national judges lacked technical skills to hear such case, the reason having already been explained above.

Continuing judicial education, training and development to improve knowledge, skills and attitudes for judges is ongoing, with Judges being accorded such training and mentoring as and when these become available and or are needed. Judges have continued to attend conferences, workshops and seminars to widen their knowledge base and improve skills in judgement writing and decision making. It is incorrect to say that High Court judges are not able to preside over complex commercial cases. The fact they have been appointed as Judges of the High Court is a demonstration of the confidence that the Judiciary has on their ability and capacity to hear all sorts of cases within their jurisdiction.

On the issue of the number of judges for the High Court, the Prescription of Judges (High Court) Act [cap. 90] limits the maximum number of judges in the High Court to seven. This is why an extra judicial officer, styled a Commissioner has had to be engaged to hear such case as no other judge was available to take on such a lengthy trial that had been given a time estimate of four months. In any event, this ceiling on the number of judges is being addressed with a request to have it removed so that judges can be appointed onto the High Court Bench as and when needed.

In terms of mediation, which is part of alternative dispute resolution, this has been an ongoing project, which will continue to be pursued in the New Year.

Myonnie Tutuo Samani

Registrar High Court

 

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