Claim over judges' hours refuted

HIGH Court judges are spending a satisfactory amount of time in court, over three hours 53 minutes a day on average, judiciary statistics show.

This is within a hair's breadth of Chief Justice Sir Ti Liang Yang's aim of an average of four hours. Much more than this, and Sir Ti Liang believes it would be too long.

The Registrar of the Supreme Court, Mr Julian Betts, revealed the statistics in response to a survey done by a senior law lecturer at City Polytechnic which found from monitoring the small sample of two different courts daily that judges sit on average three hours 16 minutes.

Mr Betts said the official figures showed an enormous variation between judges. ''But it has to be remembered that judges have different types of work as well as different work habits,'' Mr Betts said.

''Civil judges dealing with interlocutory matters have to spend a lot of time studying papers, whereas in a criminal trial the judge will spend more time in court.'' He was reluctant to release the statistics, saying it would be easy to draw misleading conclusions from them.

''You have got to look at the type of work which the judge was doing and this doesn't appear in the statistics. It is a much more sophisticated exercise rather than taking raw figures and saying that establishes anything,'' Mr Betts said.

''The number of days judges sit in court, an average of 178, is also satisfactory,'' he said, taking into account leave, public holidays and some unavoidable wastage when cases collapsed unexpectedly.

Mr Betts went on to debunk the myth that Mr Peter Robinson, formerly from the Lord Chancellor's Department in Britain, in his study on the efficiency of the judiciary had stated that five hours sitting time was an ideal.

''In fact, Mr Robinson in the introduction to his report said, 'The maximum daily hearing time in court or chambers is five hours', and went on to say it would be bad to average five hours a day.'' Since the Robinson report, Mr Betts said, the judiciary had done several things to try to improve efficiency - an administrator was appointed to run court reporting services, a working party completed a review of listing systems, and weekly listing meetings were headed by the Chief Justice.

Turning to the suggestion from Mr Allan that judges' time could be better utilised if they granted fewer adjournments, Mr Betts said it was entirely a matter for the judge whether to grant one.

He pointed out that the aim of adjournments was to shorten a trial (by allowing the parties to talk about a settlement, or agreeing on some matter) and he queried the claim that adjournments led to the lengthening of cases.

Mr Betts said the idea of having cases waiting to appear in court at very short notice had been considered recently and rejected as being bad for the public and the public purse.