BY JENNIFER KUSAPA
CHIEF Justice Sir Albert Palmer says Solomon Islands is one of the countries with highest percentage of accused being remanded awaiting their cases to be heard in court in the region.
Sir Albert said according to the data obtained from the World Prison Brief (“WPB”) as at 2018, the percentage rate was 46.8 percent for Solomon Islands.
At that time record shows that the country had 224 prisoners in remand from a total of 479 in the Correctional facility.
“Our most recent figures, showed that as at 21st October 2020, there was a total of 618 incarcerated in our prisons, out of these 296 were in remand, giving an increased percentage rate of 47.8 percent. Of these, you may be interested to note that 136 of these are remandees awaiting trial or hearing in the High Court; that is very high indeed.
“Sadly now, it seems from recent information that has come to my attention, that Solomon Islands has one of the highest percentages of pre-trial detainees/remand prisoners in the region,” Sir Albert said.
Comparative figures around the region of pre-trial detainees / remand prisoners, showed the following percentage rates:
Australia: at June 2019: 33 percent;
New Zealand: at June 2020: 36.5percent;
Fiji: at September 2019: 24percent; and
Papua New Guinea: at 2019: 34.4percent.
He said the figures for Solomon Islands are startling and must be cause of great concern for those of us in the judiciary who care, and the Government.
“There is no short cut to justice issues,” Sir Albert said.
The courts must continue to sit, hold trials and go on circuits; the DPP’s Office and PSO’s must be strengthened and supported so that they too are able to provide the much-needed support for the courts to hear and dispose of cases as scheduled; vacating and postponing of trials and circuits should be avoided at all costs.
“In spite and despite of pressures to vacate and postpone hearings and circuits, I am reluctant to do that, and you know why.
“It is our constitutional mandate to have criminal matters tried within a reasonable time and to afford an accused person a fair hearing within a reasonable time”, Sir Albert said.
Sir Albert said the constitutional rights of an accused are at stake and it is the duty of the judiciary to hold hearings and circuits to be able to chip into those backlogs and reduce delays.
He said the High Court cannot do it alone but needs support from the legal sector. For each judge added to the Bench, there should be a ratio of two prosecutors and four legal officers from the Public Solicitor’s Office added.
He also said that it is clear that the support for the legal agencies has not kept pace with the growth and expanse in the work of the courts in administering justice in the country, compounding delays, a build-up in the backlog of cases and consequential build-up in the number of remandees, those waiting for their trials in our prisons.
“I have oft repeated that the effectiveness of the criminal justice system is central to peace and stability in the country and directly linked to growth, expansion and prosperity of the economy.
“A thriving economy is dependent on a vibrant democracy and the rule of law,” Sir Albert added.