Case statistics highlight need for expanded facilities
Chief Justice Anthony Smellie announced on Wednesday the specific steps that have been taken to make a new courthouse a reality.
He was speaking at the formal opening of Grand Court for 2016 after a ceremonial inspection of a police guard of honor outdoors.
The chief justice reported that following government’s recommitment to providing a new courthouse, a steering committee had been formed for realizing the project. Accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers is now to be engaged for the production of an outline business case, which is a prerequisite for any major government project, he explained.
PwC’s fees were approved on Tuesday night, he revealed, thanking government for taking that step. The firm will have 100 days to produce its business case, which will then go to Cabinet for approval. If approved, the project can enter its construction phase.
Those on hand to hear his remarks included Governor Helen Kilpatrick, Premier Alden McLaughlin, Deputy Governor Franz Manderson, Financial Services Minister Wayne Panton and Acting Commissioner of Police Anthony Ennis. Magistrates, attorneys, retired members of the judiciary, court staff and members of the public filled Court 1 for the occasion, with an overflow accommodated via closed circuit TV in Court 2.
The need for new facilities was evidenced by case statistics the chief justice shared. In the Grand Court criminal division, 149 indictments are awaiting trial, with only 72 matters completed in 2015. Those still to be heard include 35 cases from 2014; 16 from 2013 and nine from 2012.
There needs to be more than two Grand Court criminal cases running at the same time, he recommended, “which is an even more compelling argument for a new courthouse.”
Chief Justice Smellie said the assistance of visiting Grand Court justices had been crucial and he noted that attorney Robin McMillan, who was appointed last year as an acting judge, has now been made an established judge of the court. As a Cayman resident, he will relinquish his law practice and be able to serve on a full-time basis, the chief justice explained.
The Judicial and Legal Services Commission has selected and pre-approved three Queen’s Counsel who will be able to serve as acting judges.
In the Grand Court financial services division, 255 cases were filed in 2015, up from 167 the year before.
In the family division, 260 cases were filed, all involving divorce or the care of children. The chief justice announced a new approach to family court proceedings through mediation. This practice has been shown to be less acrimonious and less expensive than having a decision imposed on the parties, he said. All members of the judiciary will be trained in family court mediation over a long weekend in February, he said.
In the Summary Court, a backlog initiative was established to deal with cases in which there had been chronic delays. These typically involved defendants who were not represented by an attorney and were the result of summons not being served or witnesses or defendants not showing up on time or cases with defense counsel taking precedence or lack of courtrooms.
Last year, Chief Justice Smellie recalled, he had made an urgent plea for facilities for children in need of care. He thanked government for structures completed at two sites, but noted that the present facilities for young offenders did not meet appropriate standards. He also pointed to the need for more personnel in Children and Family Services and the Probation and Aftercare Unit.
Court proceedings began with prayer led by Father Suresh Rajaian, pastor of St. Ignatius Catholic Church. Attorney General Samuel Bulgin moved the opening of court. His motion was seconded by representatives of the Law Society and Caymanian Bar Association, and Colin McKie, consultant editor of the Cayman Islands Law Reports.
Mr. McKie first read the speech of Law Society president Alasdair Robertson, who summarized the work of members in consulting on various legislation. Speaking in his own role, Mr. McKie noted that Cayman’s judges had produced 134 written judgments and rulings in 2015.
Cayman Islands Law Reports are consulted throughout the Commonwealth, he said, and now contain 1,941 judgments from the last 60 years. Publication of judgments helps the concerned parties understand reasons for a decision and ensures public confidence in the courts, he pointed out.
Abraham Thoppil, president of the Caymanian Bar Association, called for legislation to be drafted in plain language. Overly technical terminology is arguably discriminatory, he suggested. It can be a breach of natural justice and a waste of time and money when attorneys differ and judges have to be called on to make decisions, Mr. Thoppil said.
All speeches are scheduled to be posted on the judicial website.