Consolidated Figures For Magistrates, Sessions And High Courts.pdf
The size of the criminal caseload (378,333) in the Magistrates Courts, depicted in the graphic above, reflects the exclusion of all code 86 cases (1,426,800 carried forward from previous year, plus 837,970 new cases in 2011) and code 87 traffic cases (179,900 carried forward from previous year, plus 107,417 new cases in 2011). Each Magistrates Court centre sets aside a dedicated ‘Traffic Court’ to deal with traffic cases – which may also be specially constituted as Courts for Children when a juvenile matter is filed in the court.
The volume of criminal cases diminishes significantly as cases are referred up the court hierarchy as does the ratio of civil to criminal cases. In the High Court (as contrasted with the subordinate courts), there are few guilty pleas entered and most cases are listed for a full hearing where they are either withdrawn or end in conviction – very few result in acquittal or dismissal (‘A&D’ in graphic above).
The efficiency of the courts has increased since the introduction of the Case Management Information System (CMIS) into the Criminal Division of the High Court on 1 January 2011. Case management units (staffed by registrars) manage the case until it is ready for trial; they handle all preliminary hearings so allowing the judges to focus on the trial.
The time frame set by the case management units was described as follows:
- registration of case;
- within two weeks the first case management (CM1) is conducted: the purpose is to determine if the defendant is represented or not, if not counsel is assigned;
- within four weeks the second case management is conducted (CM2): defence counsel attends, DPP makes disclosure and pleas are discussed;
- within four weeks, the third case management (CM3) is conducted: the plea offered is accepted by the DPP and the matter proceeds and is listed for sentence; or the matter is set down for trial.
In general, the practice (in all courts) is to allow one week for the prosecution case then adjourn for 4 weeks to allow the defence to prepare no case submissions and then set one week for the defence case.
The data shows that each of the 62 Judges and 31 Judicial Commissioners averaged 69 cases each in 2011, or 5.7 cases each per month.
Pages 15, 16, 17 display the case disposal and carry forward rates for each of the Magistrates, Sessions, and High courts.
The case backlog project is commended by legal practitioners for the open and consultative manner in which the Bar was approached and brought into the process of reform by the senior judiciary. Less widely appreciated, was the firm view taken by the courts on case adjournments where strict criteria were applied before counsel were granted an adjournment.
The project also introduced a queue management system (QMS). The QMS enables lawyers to register their arrival at an automated kiosk which then assigns the lawyer a counter. The case is called simultaneously over the public address system, through telephone messaging (‘SMS’) and listed on a plasma television screen. If a lawyer has several cases, the registrar will know that they are at court and stand the matter down until both parties are ready. Lawyers at all the courts were enthusiastic about the reforms since they were able to organize their time more efficiently, process their caseload more quickly and so increase their income. Court users were not consulted in any structured way. However, lawyers report that they have gained more clients as a result of the reforms which may be an indication of increased public confidence in the court system.
The Case Management Information System generates Cause Lists by computer. At the time of the audit it was reported that each state is developing its own court website on which the Cause List for cases to be heard in the coming week would be posted.
Court Recording and Transcription systems (CRT) appeared to have been installed in the courts and were credited by court administrators as speeding up trial proceedings and shortening the length of hearing time (especially of benefit to witnesses). One administrator observed that before the introduction of CRT a trial may last two days and after they could list two trials for the same day. One judge was less enthusiastic and commented on the lack of training and poor language skills of some scribes and the need to factor training into the CRT package.
The subordinate courts are supervised by judges of the High Court. A feature of the criminal justice system is the apparent absence of guidance by the apex court as concerns sentencing guidelines and bail. Prison officers reported disparities in sentencing practice from both Sessions Court and Magistrates Court.
Many prisoners on remand for bailable offences claimed they could not afford the amount set by the court. There appeared to be no consistent practice in place in the Magistrates Court. Lawyers working in the courts advised that ‘some magistrates’ allow bail without a surety, while others set RM500 in recognition of the person’s means: ‘it depends on the magistrate.’ In other courts, the magistrates appeared to adopt a pragmatic approach to bail: if the defendant could afford it, s/he was granted bail, if s/he could not she was remanded in custody. It followed then that on a plea of guilty (or finding of guilt), the defendant would end up paying a fine (since s/he had the means to pay it) or serving a prison sentence (since s/he had no means to pay a fine).
While there are a number of published law reports—The Malayan Law Journal, All Malaysia Reports, Current Law Journal (as well as law reports for older case law)—none of them focus on criminal law issues, such as evidence, procedure or sentencing.
Mediation appears to have limited application in the courts. Comments by legal practitioners suggested public confusion (as the judge doubles as a mediator). Mediation is offered to parties as an option to adjudication only in some courts. In Perlis there is no access to mediation services and it is accessible only in part in Pahang, Terengganu, Kelantan, Sabah and Sarawak.
In Kuala Lumpur, there is a dedicated ‘Mediation Centre’ (launched in August 2011). Situated within the court complex, the environment is deliberately softer (sofas and armchairs) and contains three mediation and caucus rooms. On average, the Centre manages 20-30 cases per month. In 2011, the Centre registered 250 cases and recorded a 40% success rate. Lawyers are required to attend and all of the mediators are judges from Sessions Court/ High Court (who have had 40 hour training courses).
The figures overall suggest 50% of matters brought to mediation are successful – for instance, in 2011:
- the High Court fixed 2,276 matters for judicial mediation of which 1,177 were unsuccessful;
- the Sessions Court fixed 3,686 matters of which 1,719 were unsuccessful;
- the Magistrates Court fixed 661 matters of which 368 were unsuccessful.
The employment of judge as mediator may not be the most efficient use of the judge’s time. In the Philippines for instance, court-annexed mediation works well where the judge in court refers the matter (if the parties consent) to an adjacent room where lay persons trained as mediators take the matter forward and report back on any outcome to the court.