By Staff Writer
A biennial conference opened at The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman this week for regional Chief Justices and Heads of Judiciaries, which, it is hoped, would allow them to share mutual challenges and drive innovation in the administration of justice across the Caribbean and Bermuda. Senior members of the government and judiciary were in attendance, including the Premier Wayne Panton, Deputy Governor Franz Manderson (who is Acting Governor), House Speaker McKeeva Bush, the Chief Justice Sir Anthony Smellie, Attorney General Sam Bulgin, Opposition Leader Roy McTaggart and Deputy Opposition Leader Joey Hew, along with a total of 11 heads of judiciary across the region. Notable attendees included Sir Brian Moree outgoing CJ of the Bahamas and CJ Designate for the Bahamas, Ian Winder.
At the opening ceremony, Acting Governor Franz Manderson spoke about how the Caribbean judiciary benefitted from such meetings.
“I am inspired by the local, regional and worldwide respect that the large local and regional representation here this morning commands for their independence, courage and competence. This actual and perceived reputation is critical because upon it hinges the very security and prosperity of our islands and our people,” he said.
The meeting’s focus was on the application of information technology to the administration of justice. Mr Manderson referenced the first televised Old Bailey proceedings that had taken place that day and said the use of technology in the region had become imperative in the unprecedented pandemic. He was heartened that technology had played a critical role in assisting Cayman’s Courts during the pandemic and that the criminal divisions of both summary and grand courts had reached the end of 2021 with virtually no backlogs as a result. He spoke of the new era of remote hearings which had now been expanded to all sections of the court and was now a reliable alternative to in-person hearings when circumstances necessitated. The resilience and responsiveness by Cayman’s Courts was most heartening, he said.
Cayman’s Court e-filing and e-payments platforms were now being completed in all divisions and 2023 would see a completely automated and fully paperless Court system.
Premier Wayne Panton said that the meeting offered an opportunity to celebrate the importance of the role of the judiciary as an independent pillar of government, but warned that public perception of institutional independence—not just what was written in the Constitution or backed up in laws— was most vital to maintaining public confidence.
Perception, he said, came from both the actual and the perceived access to the courts; it was also grounded in the perception that justice was being meted out without fear or favour, affection or ill-will, and regardless of one’s place in society. The premier went on to say that the separation of powers was only fully and finally constitutionally entrenched in Cayman with the 2016 Constitutional Amendment, when the executive branch had no disciplinary authority over the judiciary—except when acting upon the advice of the Judicial and Legal Services Commission and only in cases of serious misconduct or inability to function.
“That was a moment of real alignment of public perceptions and the constitutionally prescribed independence of the judiciary,” he said.
The premier went on to speak about the importance of the access to justice, in the form of a well-established Judicial Legal Aid Department announced earlier this year and the launch of a fully staffed Legal Aid Clinic, which would go a long way to reinforcing such ideals. He appealed to colleagues to undertake a greater shouldering of the legal aid weight.
Sir Anthony Smellie, Cayman’s soon to retire Chief Justice, spoke about how the relationship between the judiciary and the government rested on a solid foundation of respect. He said that the administration of justice was a constant work in progression and spoke about how remote hearings might become more of a regular occurrence – of great benefit in terms of time and cost. The use of technology had been significant and more was to come. Sharing experiences in this area with his fellow chief justices meant all jurisdictions could be better placed to know what new technologies to adopt and what to avoid.