Addressing case delays caused by multiple adjournments


Provide examples of more and less successful attempts to address case delays in developing countries, with particular focus on delays caused by multiple adjournments.


A number of policy studies recommend measures to tackle case delays in developing countries, but relatively few of these recommendations are supported by rigorous empirical evidence. It also appears that data on court performance in developing countries is scarce. The exception to this is a series of World Bank studies, which measures the effectiveness of its justice reform projects in a range of countries, typically using aggregate statistics and random samples of case files.

Key messages:

  • Measuring court performance and establishing monitoring and reporting requirements are important methods for reducing the incidence of adjournments and addressing delays more generally.
  • Better use of information technology can assist in speeding up court processes and avoiding postponements; however, evidence from Ghana suggests that automated courts are not necessarily more efficient than un-automated courts.
  • Notwithstanding the importance of technical improvements, it is also important that reform efforts address the interests and incentives of judges, lawyers and court staff, which may create delays.
  • Strong judicial leadership can help to reduce the number of adjournments.
  • Whilst restrictions on adjournments can assist in reducing case delays, there is a risk that a lack of flexibility can result in cases being dismissed prematurely.
  • The use of penalties, sanctions and fines for non-compliance with deadlines can be effective in addressing some of the cause of adjournments and other delays; however, ‘soft sanctions’ may sometimes be more appropriate.
  • The success of the reform efforts in Ethiopia and Malaysia may be partly related to their focus on a relatively small number of judges, as this allowed members of the Supreme Court to keep close track of their compliance with adjournment policy.

Suggested citation

Laws, E. (2016). Addressing case delays caused by multiple adjournments (GSDRC Helpdesk Research Report 1374). Birmingham, UK: GSDRC, University of Birmingham.