Stop wasting court's time with groundless appeals: judge

Lawyers warned to stop lodging unnecessary appeals or clients risk getting harsher sentences

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 10 October, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 10 October, 2013, 8:58am

The Court of Appeal issued a critical statement yesterday reminding lawyers not to lodge appeals that were totally without merit.

Such a move wasted judicial time and public money and delayed cases that deserved to be reviewed, the court's vice-president Mr Justice Frank Stock said.

Stock also highlighted the increasing use of incompetent legal representation as a reason for appeal, which he said was a groundless claim in many of the cases.

The judge warned that lodging a plainly hopeless appeal might lead the court to disregard the time the appellant had spent in custody awaiting the outcome of the appeal, departing from the usual practice to recognise it as part of the jail term served.

"All judges of the Court of Appeal have become increasingly concerned at the proportion of wholly unmeritorious applications for leave to appeal conviction and/or sentence coming before the court," Stock wrote in a judicial note after consulting all the appeal court judges.

The note came after High Court judge Kevin Zervos said in August, when he was still director of public prosecutions, that appeal court judges were saddled with too much work, resulting in unusual delays in delivering their judicial decisions.

Zervos said the heavy workload meant occasionally judges had no time to read beforehand the papers or case precedents filed by lawyers and prosecutors.

Stock said that before hearing an appeal application, the court needed to read an array of documents including the grounds of appeal, arguments, and the trial judge's ruling.

Totally unarguable cases therefore resulted in a significant waste of judicial time, government funds and serious delays to meritorious appeals.

The judge said making the decision to appeal based on legal advice would not be an excuse. He also noted that directing unmeritorious allegations of incompetence at the original legal team burdened those lawyers with considerable work in preparing for their defence against incompetence and attending the appeal hearing as required.

"Although allegations of flagrant incompetence will always be examined carefully, the frequency of wholly unwarranted allegations has increased, both at the hands of represented and unrepresented applicants."

Stock said the main criterion in determining whether to ignore time spent in custody was whether there was a total lack of merit in the appeal.