Thursday, July 03, 2014

The faster you go the bigger the mess?

One reflects, as one must, on the appellate delay in Sabapathee v The Director of Public Prosecutions (Mauritius) [2014] UKPC 19 (25 June 2014).

There is nothing exceptional about the offending, and sentencing should have been routine. But the judge’s lenience in imposing a fine led to appellate squabbles over whether imprisonment should have been imposed instead.

These squabbles – or, as we call them in law, proceedings – lasted about 3 years and eight months. During that time the defendant had got on with life [34]:

“There have been changes in the appellant's personal circumstances since his conviction. He is now married, his wife is pregnant and he has employment at a gym. The offence was a serious one and the Board is not persuaded that it would be grossly disproportionate for the appellant to serve a period in custody for it, but it is satisfied that it would be grossly disproportionate, in all the circumstances that he should now be required to serve a sentence as long as three years. The Board concludes that the appropriate course is that his appeal should be allowed, the sentence of three years imposed by the Supreme Court should be quashed and there should be substituted a sentence of 18 months' imprisonment, less the period spent by the appellant on remand in custody.”

The offence – possession of about 70 grams of cannabis for supply – was initially punished by a fine, then, on the prosecutor’s appeal, by imprisonment for 3 years (suspended pending the outcome of this appeal). The Board recognised that a sentence of 3 years’ imprisonment could properly have been imposed at first instance and that a fine was manifestly inadequate [32].

One year and 10 months elapsed between the imposition of the fine and the first appellate court’s judgment, and the Board’s judgment was delivered approximately 1 year and 10 months after that.

Given that the appeals both took about the same time, should the Board’s criticisms of delay be confined to the local proceedings? The Board said [25]:

“The Board is aware that judicial resources in Mauritius are strained, but that is not a satisfactory explanation for the length of time which elapsed in this case. The Court record shows that the hearing of the appeal on 13 February 2012 occupied the Court for 47 minutes. The date of the appeal appears to have been fixed at hearing on 15 February 2011, at which the parties were represented. The Board is not aware of the full circumstances, but on the face of it the Board considers it highly regrettable that an appeal of this kind should be fixed for a hearing date in a year's time. It is also regrettable that it took nearly six months thereafter for the court to deliver a 4 page judgment.”

This invites us to note that the Board took 3 months to deliver a 10 page judgment (pdf version).
And so, one inevitably asks, if 3 judges take 6 months to write 4 pages, how long should it take 5 judges to write 10 pages?

According to my calculator, and assuming, to be generous, judges work in the weekends just like we do: the Supreme Court of Mauritius wrote at the rate of 0.015 pages per judge per day, and the Board wrote at virtually the same rate: 0.022 pages per judge per day.