Backlog causes courts reshuffle

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 01 February, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 01 February, 1997, 12:00am

The Judiciary is conducting a major reshuffle to cope with a temporary shortage of judges in upper courts.

The shortage is partly due to the 'winter offensive' on waiting lists for brief hearings, which have been a source of concern among lawyers and their clients.

Lawyers complain they have had to wait five months to have half a day in front of a judge for some minor matter on the way to a full hearing.

One senior solicitor said: 'This is causing some very serious problems. Some forms of legal action simply aren't worth it.' Judges are being switched from full hearings to clear the backlog.

To plug the gaps, the Judiciary yesterday announced four District Court judges would be temporarily elevated to the High Court.

This would leave the District Court, already six under the usual strength of 33, with just 23 judges. To make up the manpower shortage, eight long-serving magistrates have been elevated to the District Court.

It was also announced yesterday that appeal court judge Mr Justice Gerald Nazareth would have his contract extended for two years beyond normal retirement age.

Audrey Eu Yuet-mee, chair of the Bar Council, said her organisation had been pressing for the numbers of High Court judges to be increased.

'We have been saying that off and on for a while,' she said.

The judiciary said yesterday it was trying to recruit judges for the District Court, and magistrates.

'An exercise has already been started to fill these vacancies,' a spokesman said.

The acting Chief Justice has given permission for Chinese to be used in a civil case in the High Court - the third time he has made this approval.