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Mar 31, 2005

New rules will speed civil cases

Story PictureOut with the old, in with the new. That’s how Chief Justice Abdulai Conteh described it as he formally introduced new rules that will govern how cases are handled in the Supreme Court. The new rules come into effect on Monday, and will replace the seventy-nine year old British procedures which were adapted for local conditions in 1926. Conteh says the new rules will level the litigation playing field and save time and money.

Dr. Abdulai Conteh, Chief Justice
?First by having the parties to litigation on equal footing. Regardless of their financial resources the rules will apply even-handedly to everyone of them, particularly in the management of the court?s time. So that the parties would be expected to cooperate with each other. The case management session will be able to identify the issues. And in terms of awarding cost, the court will bear in mind the behaviour and the disposition of the parties to litigation. If you have been uncooperative, you want to bully the other side because you have a deeper pocket this will all be taken into account in terms of cost.?

?We have now, from the new rules coming into force, a fixed date. When the date of trial is fixed there will be no adjournment allowed. The parties and the attorneys are expected to proceed to trial. If you do not go, you will have to pay. You must have good reason not to want to go to trial. So that really will help the process. But before you go to trial there are prior stages, the case management, the pre-trial review, when as I said in the launch of the new rules, is a distillation process. What are the issues? Why are you in court? Why don?t you want to admit his claim? Is there anything to go to trial on? And the court can decide that, having had the parties on the issues so that judgements will be rendered quicker than they are presently; litigation would be less cumbersome. The public will understand why I lose, because I have an obstructionist attorney, or I had no merit in my claim. But all will be there in the open for everybody to see.?

President of the Bar Association Michael Chebat says the legal fraternity welcomes this latest attempt to simplify the judicial process. And while there may be some initial problems, both Chebat and Conteh believe that over time, glitches in implementing the new rules will be sorted out and the wheels of justice will roll more smoothly.

Belize is the third jurisdiction in the Caribbean to implement its own home grown rules for cases before the Supreme Court behind Trinidad and Tobago and the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States. Guyana and Barbados are expected to follow suit shortly.

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