In his report at the opening of the Courts last week, Chief Justice Anthony Smellie implored Government to make the expansion of the Courts a priority as the new decade progresses.
The Chief Justice spoke of his relief last year that the Government had bought the Scotia Bank building for the use of the Courts. He was relieved, he said, because he had been reassured that by mid-last year, they would have commissioned two more “long overdue” courtrooms in that building, to be dedicated to criminal trials, one of which would serve as the base for the Court of Appeal when in session.
“The clear stated priority was to tackle the backlog of criminal indictments,” he advised.
However, even though the courtroom project would only have involved a simple reconfiguring and fitting out of internal space within the building, he said that had not been achieved and in the meantime the building had been partially occupied to relieve space shortage for admin staff and training.
“The fact of the matter is that the Judicial Administration may not undertake the courtroom project without the permission of the Planning Department, and input of Public Works and Lands and Survey who hold title to all Government buildings,” Chief Justice Smellie advised. “We therefore call upon our colleagues from these other agencies to recognise the urgent need for these courtrooms and not to allow too much red tape to humbug progress.”
It was vital that the Courts had more space because they now have the have the largest number of indictments ever awaiting trial, he said.
Chief Justice Smellie made the position clear when he said: “It is of utmost urgency that these two court rooms are available no later than May of this year. So far as the Administration can drive this initiative, we will be engaging a project manager especially to work with the other agencies to have these courtrooms installed by May.”
The Summary Courts
The chronic lack of courtrooms continued to also hamper the work of the Summary Courts, the Chief Justice stated, and they were much impacted by this situation.
The Chief Justice said that the work of the Summary Courts covered several jurisdictions: The Criminal Courts; Traffic Court; Civil Court; Family Court and Coroners’ Court.
“Given the large number of cases coming before the Summary Courts, they must convene every day in all their main divisions - criminal, traffic, civil, family and, at least weekly, in coroners. This means that our five full time Magistrates and two acting magistrates need courtrooms on an ongoing basis. Currently, they are forced to rotate sittings throughout the day,” he explained. “Yet over the years, only one fully equipped courtroom has been regularly available to the Summary Courts.”
As a result, if the Court of Appeal sat, that got priority, followed by a court room used for indictment trails which then got priority over the Summary Court, which often then had to be bumped with no accommodation then available for it.
The Chief Justice said the disruption that this caused to an already fragile listing system ought to be obvious to everyone and could not be allowed to continue.
“After many years of explaining this problem, one is obliged to think that any lingering reservations about the need for dedicated courtrooms for the Summary Courts can only be the result of lack of understanding,” he stated.
Government, he said, had committed itself to the building of a new Courthouse which would address these problems and the similar needs of the Grand Court and Court of Appeal, into the foreseeable future. The project was of crucial importance to the administration of justice in the Cayman Islands and it was imperative that it be allowed to proceed.