Industrial Court hamstrung by financial troubles
Photo via Facebook, Industrial Court.
The Industrial Court is so severely strapped for funds, there are times it can't afford to purchase basic office supplies like ink and paper.
This was revealed by Industrial Court President Deborah Thomas-Felix on Tuesday as she delivered an address for the opening of the 2019-2020 law term.
Thomas-Felix said for the financial year 2017/2018, the Court received an allocation of $40 million, $25 million less than the $65 million it had requested and 38 percent lower than the amount needed for the Court to function optimally.
Further, to exacerbate an already difficult situation, the release of these funds has been inconsistent and inadequate, Thomas-Felix said.
"There were times when there was no release of funds with respect to goods and services for months at a time. Even after the funds have been released, approval is sometimes required to print cheques for payment. This situation has been ongoing for the past few years and it is becoming increasingly difficult for the Court to meet its financial and service obligations and to have basic supplies such as ink and paper."
Thomas-Felix added that the Court has, as a result, been unable to undertake several of its annual activities such as the "Meet with the Court" symposium and training of judges.
The Court has also been unable to have hearings in Tobago for the past three years, resulting in Tobagonians having to travel back and forth between the islands for their cases.
Additionally, the Court is severely understaffed when it comes to court reporters, Thomas-Felix revealed. She said court reporters play a critical function and cases have been delayed due to the Court’s inability to fulfill requests for notes and judgments in a timely manner.
"The ongoing problem of shortage of court reporters continues to plague the Industrial Court. To date, there are 20 vacant Verbatim Reporter 1 positions, out of a total of 22. The Court has attempted to meet this huge shortfall by engaging the services of retired Reporters, however, financial constraints limit the number of persons the Court can contract to serve," she said.
"This year a total of 399 judgments were reserved for decision by the Court. Of these reserved judgments 214 remain outstanding due to the fact that Notes cannot be prepared and given to Judges for their decisions and the backlog which was cleared in 2014 has returned."
Thomas-Felix, however, thanked the existing staff for their "unwavering support and service especially in these difficult times."