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Papua New Guinea - Magistrates' Manual

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Effective case management improves the quality of justice and enhances the public standing of the Magistrates’ Courts.

This chapter will consider methods of case management in the District Courts, most of which could be adopted administratively within the existing framework of the District Courts Act. Experience elsewhere has shown that case management is implemented more effectively within a broad policy that all Magistrates feel they can support. It is also true that management methods are the responsibility of each Magistrate individually, who will apply the policy and methods in a manner that the Magistrate thinks is just in the light of the needs of each case.

“Case management” has a wide meaning, which may include such matters as registration procedures and record keeping. This chapter is mainly concerned with the flow of cases through the system, sometimes known as “delay reduction”.


Justice delayed is justice denied. It is recognised that delay in the court system can, and often does, have the following harmful effects:

·           It prolongs and exacerbates disputes, anxieties and differences between people.

·           It causes the memories of witnesses and parties to fade.

·           It raises the expenses of litigation, thus excluding many people from pursuing their legal rights and remedies.

·           It undermines genuine attempts to settle the cases.

·           It devalues the effectiveness of judgements, decisions and orders.

·           In criminal matters, it may breach the constitutional guarantee of a hearing “within reasonable time”: Constitution, s 37(3) and see Chapter 3.

·           In civil matters, it may cause parties to accept less than the full value for their claims.

·           Accumulated delay produces backlogs of cases that waste court resources and create conflict in allocating Magistrates’ time.


The objectives of case-flow management are to:

·           reduce delay and expense of the court system;

·           dispose of each case in the most efficient manner;

·           apply the same standards to all parties engaged in the court process; and

·           increase public confidence in the court as an institution.


23.4.1 Ethical obligation

The magistracy has an ethical obligation to conclude all court proceedings promptly.

23.4.2 Unacceptable lapse of time

From the beginning of litigation(1) to the final disposition of the case(2), any time that elapses, other than time that is reasonably required(3) for the pleadings(4), evidentiary matters(5), mediation(6) and other court events(7), is unacceptable.

Notes on the above statement

1.         Litigation includes criminal or civil litigation.

2.         Disposition means disposition by settlement, guilty plea, dismissal, conviction, judgment or final order.

3.         The Magistrate knows from experience what is reasonably required.

4.         Pleadings include the laying of informations and the issuing of summons, complaints and statements of defence.

5.         Evidentiary matters include the production of documents, preparation of depositions and pre-trial examination of witnesses.

6.         Mediation and other forms of dispute resolution are often time-consuming, and a time-schedule should be fixed to bring unsuccessful attempts at mediation to a close.

7.         Court events are any occasions when the parties attend before the court.

23.4.3 Control

In order to ensure the just and efficient resolution of cases, the court, rather than the parties or lawyers, must control the flow of cases. This is a fundamental proposition in any court, and, in the District Court, the ultimate responsibility lies with the Magistrates.

23.4.4 Determination

Reducing delay requires a strong commitment on the part of the Magistrates.


23.5.1 Supervision

Supervision by the court (the clerk of court) of all cases should begin from the time of filing of the first document. This might involve monitoring the steps taken in each case on a time-chart or calendar, perhaps with a line across the chart for each case, showing its progress.

23.5.2 Control of case-flow

Magistrates may control the progress of each case by techniques such as:

·           fixing short times between court events, such as:

(i)         between the appearance of a defendant on a summons and the date of hearing; and

(ii)        when dealing with applications for further particulars of complaint or defence;

·           never adjourning a case without fixing a further date (never indefinitely, or sine die, despite the wording of s 89(1) of the District Courts Act);

·           when transferring a case to another court, arranging (wherever possible) a certain date for attendance at that court;

·           fixing periods for adjournments which are as short as possible in the circumstances; and

·           after the close of evidence and argument at the end of a hearing, fixing as short a period as possible within which to consider and deliver the judgment, order or other decision.

23.5.3 Advice concerning adjournments

Magistrates should advise, and regularly remind, parties and lawyers that cases will be heard on the date fixed, and that, once hearings have begun, further adjournments will be firmly discouraged.

23.5.4 Early identification of problems

The Magistrate and clerk should review the list frequently to identify difficult cases, and cases which are likely to require more time (in preparation or in hearing), so that additional resources can be organised for them.


This will usually involve:

·           preparing data and/or examples which establish that delay is a problem;

·           analysing causes of delay;

·           designing a program to reduce delay, indicating the court’s specific problems and how to deal with them;

·           planning for implementation, including the administrative and training aspects, and the detailed methods to be put in place; and

·          putting the plan into practice.

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