By Staff Writer
Hon. Chief Justice Anthony Smellie QC has repeated his call for improved court facilities in the Cayman Islands.
In a speech marking the start of the new Grand Court session, the Chief Justice who has been advocating especially for a new courthouse, underlined the urgency of the situation with a plea for at least additional courtrooms in the interim.
“Even while we await the approval of the project for the building of a new courthouse, the project for the installation of two courtrooms in the building acquired from Scotiabank in 2018 must be at the top of Government’s priorities this year and I urge the Governor, the Premier and their colleagues of Cabinet to ensure that this happens.”
Chief Justice Smellie noted that the challenge facing Cayman is not one of capability in the delivery of justice, but of the capacity of space in which to do it.
“Again, I confirm that the problem is not lack of judicial capacity,” he pointed out, “nor is it the lack of defence counsel, because arrangements can surely be made to enlist more lawyers, even if only on a temporary basis.”
The problem, he explained, is the lack of courtrooms in which to try these serious and often very sensitive and involved cases.
“Just this past Monday, I was told that although the outfitting of the building for the two courtrooms will involve only internal works, this project cannot begin until summer this year,” the Chief Justice said.
He said he was making the call for the additional facilities as Cayman as, “despite our best efforts during the COVID-19 shutdown, including being the first court in the region to resume jury trials at beginning of July”, the jurisdiction still suffers from inadequate court space, which ultimately has a knock-on effect on the judicial process.
“I am sure you will all agree that this is unacceptable, faced as we are with the prospect of denying persons their constitutional right to a timely trial. In the Summary Courts, on the criminal side, the situation continues to be just as unsatisfactory and for the same reasons, the lack of courts.”
Crediting the magistrates and their support staff for working “as assiduously as ever throughout the year”, the Chief Justice however emphasised that “this kind of backlog cannot be overcome without additional courtrooms.”
Over the past year, 1393 criminal charges were dealt with but there are 1689 charges are currently pending trial.
“As I remind each year,” Chief Justice Smellie said, “the Magistrates find themselves in the unenviable and often embarrassing situation of having to vie against the Grand Court and when it is in session, against the Court of Appeal as well, for courtrooms, with the inevitable result that the Summary Criminal cases are relegated in a manner that is equality antithetical to any notion of timely justice.”