Archive for January 11th, 2012

Judiciary needs new court

| 11/01/2012 | 37 Comments

courts good.jpg(CNS): With an ever increasing workload, especially  in criminal matters, and ten judicial officers presiding over the myriad cases passing through the local court system in only six court rooms, the country’s top judge has said there is now a pressing need for the long planned new court house to be built. Speaking at the official opening of the Grand Court on Wednesday morning, Chief Justice Anthony Smellie pointed out that people had the right not only to a fair and timely trial in criminal cases but the right to have accurate and cost-effective determinations of all disputes before the courts. He said the work load now more than justified the new building, which had received government approval several years ago.

Smellie explained to a court room filled with members of the legal profession who had turned out for the judicial occasion that the new court house project was in the advanced stages ofits design when it was shelved because of the financial crisis of 2009.

“The need for it is more urgent and pressing than ever and I do not think it has to be explained, having been accepted by government and the commitment renewed in each Throne Speech over the past several years,” the chief justice said.

1,338 new cases were filed in the summary court during 2011 and 1,276 were disposed of, including some which were carried forward from 2010. In the Grand Court, 114 indictments were filed on top of cases carried over from 2010. In total 91 cases were handled by the Grand Court last year and 88 have been carried into the new judicial year.

However, it is the rate of disposal which is the most important statistic, the chief justice noted. In the Grand Court Criminal Division that was 285 days, down by 54 days over the same period in 2010.  “Although not as low as the benchmark of 180 days, this is a reduction in the time to disposal that brings us closer to that benchmark which we had established until the marked year-on-year increase in the criminal case load which started in 2006,” he explained.

The average time in the Summary Court for criminal matters, he said, was still troubling at 298 days, which illustrated the need for a permanent fourth magistrate to help handle the sheer volume of criminal cases each year but the lack of court rooms and other facilities has prevented that appointment.

Despite the justification already well-established regarding the new court, he said the government and the public were still entitled to timely reports on the situation.

“The overall position is that there are now seven judges of the Grand Court,” he said.
All seven hear cases on a daily basis, and with just three magistrates hearing Summary Court every day. This means there are still ten judicial officers but only six court rooms. This is compounded when the Court of Appeal is in session when eleven court rooms are needed.

“The problem is exacerbated whenever there are lengthy trials, which will occupy court rooms for several days or even weeks on end, thereby effectively reducing the available number of court rooms for the recurring number of other trials,” Justice Smellie added.

Unlike other areas, of government, the chief justice said, investment in plant had not kept pace with the increase in business at the court.

“This is notwithstanding the fact that revenue generated from the commercial side of court business has continued to contribute significantly towardsoffsetting the costs of providing the services,” he added.

The Financial Services Court alone has generated a significant amount of money over the last 18 months and made an important contribution to government coffers.

But the chief justice noted that the decision on the new court could not just depend on costs; the timeliness in the delivery of justice was an important consideration.

“It must not be forgotten that what is at risk if the administration of justice falters is the right of the citizen to a fair and timely trial and the right of all persons who come before the courts to have  accurate and cost-effective determinations of their disputes,” he said. “In the absence of the assurance of those rights, Cayman would soon lose its reputation as a fine place in which to live and in which to conduct business.”

Justice Smellie said the judicial administration would be seeking to re-engage the government about the new court house this year.

During his report the chief justice revealed that magistrate Nova Hall had been appointed as chief magistrate in the Summary Court following the departure of Margaret Ramsey-Hale to the Turks and Caicos Islands.

He also confirmed that local attorney Eileen Nervik would act as a temporary magistrate to help with the current workload until former crown counsel, Kirsty-Ann Gunn, whohas been appointed by the judicial services commission as permanent magistrate, takes up the post in April.

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Cayman Finance snubs watchdog conference

| 11/01/2012 | 0 Comments

DM_Head_Shot_0.png(CNS Business): Despite the popularity of the OffshoreAlert annual conference among Cayman’s financial industry experts, the industry’s Cayman Islands association has again failed to respond to invitations to take part or contribute to the agenda. The publisher of the financial watchdog’s website and monthly newsletter which shines a light on the darker side of the industry said he was disappointed that although he had reached out to the organisation, he has received no reply. One of the members of Cayman’s judiciary, however, has agreed to take part and will be joining a panel of regional judicial heavyweights to discuss key rulings and legal issues affecting financial services. Read more on CNS Business

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Prison focuses on rehab

| 11/01/2012 | 29 Comments

P1100027 (235x300).jpg(CNS): Government will be placing far greater emphasis this year on the rehabilitation of offenders serving time in the prison system with the aim of reducing the high rates of recidivism. The prison revolving door owes much to the inability of offenders to find work once released, driving them back to survival through crime and ultimately back to the prison. Having secured government funding for full time teaching staff and support from the business community, the prison will now be much better placed to address inmates’ skill sets and equip them for a crime -free life when they return to society. 

A combination of government cash, training by the education ministry, community support from the business sector and volunteers, as well as the findings in a new report due out this month, will help shape a new way forward for a full rehabilitation programme for prisoners as they serve their sentences and continuing through into the community.

Key to the rehabilitation is addressing the literacy problems which affect around 80% of inmates. Until now the prison has depended heavily on volunteers but this year HMP Northward will have its own full time literacy tutor and the Ministry of Education will also be teaching at least 6 prison officers to become reading tutors.

The plans for a full time education programme that can address the needs of all the prisoners, from those who cannot read to those seeking a useful skill to use on the outside, government hopes to address the persistently high levels of repeat offending.

On Tuesday prison staff and inmates welcomed representatives from the University of the West Indies and local law firm Mourants to officially launch two pilot courses for inmates, which are already over-subscribed.

Twelve inmates are currently on the computer maintenance course, which will now be accredited by the university and funded by Mourants. The course, which is taught by a prison officer who is also a technology expert, meets industry standards and takes inmates from not even knowing how to open a computer to being able to repair a range of engineering problems .

Just one of a range of classes and educational opportunities now planned by the prison, Kathryn Dinspel-Powell from the Portfolio of Internal Affairs, who is currently co-ordinating the review of the system, said that the key to inmates' rehabilitation was literacy. Without basic reading skills there are few courses that the inmates can take and gain qualifications they can use on the outside. Natalie Ceasar, the prison’s education co-ordinator, said that the new literacy tutor will co-ordinate all of the prison’s existing programmes and will oversee the training of prison staff tutors, as well as the various external support from volunteers and other tutors.

The Institute of Public Administration of Canada, which was commissioned to review the system and produce an independent report, will be publishing their findings this month and Dinspel-Powell said the findings in that report will guide future spending plans but education will be at the core of the new rehabilitation strategy. The goal will be to shape rehabilitation programmes for prisoners that will also involve their families to ensure the support goes beyond the prison walls.

With the prison system budget running at more than $14 million, inmate numbers rising and crime at an all-time high, there is a pressing need for government to address the failing system and concentrate on rehabilitating every prisoner returning to the community.

In an interview with CNS in 2011 Franz Manderson, the chief officer of the Portfolio of Internal and External Affairs (and now the Deputy Governor Designate) said that tough prisons don’t work.  “Tough prisons do not make good prisoners, just tough prisoners,”  Manderson said as he pointed to the portfolio’s goal to tackle recidivism through rehabilitation.

He said the public needed to understand that the loss of liberty is the punishment and that when inmates are incarcerated they should not be mistreated by the system itself but given an opportunity to change their ways.

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Review team extends consultation on rollover

| 11/01/2012 | 7 Comments

(CNS): The window of opportunity for the public to offer its opinion on work permit holders term limits — otherwise known as rollover — has been extended until Monday to allow as many people as possible to express their opinion. Officials said Tuesday that over 600 people and 80 businesses have already responded to the survey and education initiative launched by the review committee last month. Appointed by Cabinet to review the immigration law’s term limit provision, the committee is looking for input to guide the recommendations it will make to government on how it can deal with Cayman’s thorny issue of balancing labour market needs with limited status grants.

Government suspended the rollover policy in September by allowing people who had reached their seventh year to apply for a term limit extension period for up to two years to prevent what officials believed could be an exodus of some 5,000 workers in 2012. The review team was given six months to come up with a new policy proposal to facilitate the importation of skills and labour but which will also stop every foreign national from being able to claim residency rights.

The committee’s terms of reference include examining the effectiveness of the current term limit provisions and its impact on the social and economic interests of the Islands, the fee structure associated with the grant of work permits as well as the issue of  the ‘key employee’ provision.

Officials said that public feedback to date shows diverse positions on the issue of term limits and all residents can contribute to committee’s official report. The anonymous survey is divided into two sections: the Social and Economic Impacts of Rollover on Individuals, and the Social and Economic Impacts of Rollover on Individuals.

“We appreciate the public involvement so far, and look forward to gaining even more input over coming days,” said TLRC Chairman Sherri Bodden-Cowan.

More than half of the individual respondents to the survey so far have been Caymanians or status holders and the majority say they have not suffered any adverse professional or economic impact from the policy but more than half had friends or acquaintances who were rolled over.

Half of these people feel rollover should be discarded, while 20% said it should remain and 16% feel the employment period should be extended and 14% feel it should be shortened.

Government and statutory authorities was the largest sector participating to date, followed by the accounting/financial, education and financial sectors. 83% of those surveyed earn between $3,500 and $6,000/month and the next-largest group earns $2,000-$3,500.

Among the businesses responding, almost half represented the tourism/hospitality sector, which is the industry believed to be the most adversely affected by the policy. The next largest group was the financial sector, though businesses involved in retail, employment, construction or landscaping, legal, education, real estate and healthcare also took the survey.

When businesses were asked what other issues impacted their business, 46 percent cited the cost of doing business, such as utilities, accommodations costs and salaries. The global economic conditions, the Islands’ reputation and the cost of annual government fees were also listed by around a third of respondents. 54 percent of the businesses have seen increases in their human resources and operating costs and similarly just over half have seen decreases in their profit margin and productivity.

Private individuals, companies and non-governmental organizations can also send written submissions by 15 January to Cayman Term LimitReview Committee, PO Box 391 Grand Cayman KY1-1106.

To complete the survey or for more information, click here.

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Jam contractor general asks PNP to stop CHEC talks

| 11/01/2012 | 11 Comments

Jamaica-Highway-20001 (245x300)_0.jpg(CNS):Jamaica’s contractor general is calling on the new People's National Party government to stop the negotiations with China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC) over the US$600-million North-South Link Highway 2000, which involves granting a 50-year toll concession to the company. Greg Christie has raised concerns about the project and sought a meeting with the new administration to canvass its opinion on recommendations and "strong objections” to the former government’s intention to award the contract to CHEC without a competitive tender. The Beijing based firm, which is also in negotiations with the Cayman government to build the George Town cruise port, has been at thecentre of a public contract controversy in Jamaica.

"The OCG continues to maintain that the current negotiations between NROCC (National Road Operating and Constructing Company Limited) and CHEC should be terminated forthwith, and that the said transaction, irrespective of its structure, should be subjected to a transparent and international competitive bidding process whereby value for money can be secured for the benefit of the people and taxpayers of Jamaica," Greg Christie said Monday, the Jamaica Observer has reported.

The contractor general said his office was amazed and alarmed that the former JLP administration was persisting with what could be another controversial sole-source contract award to CHEC, despite ongoing public controversies, audits and OCG investigations which have arisen in consequence of a similar sole-source award of the US$400-million JDIP contract to the same company.

The selection of JDIP sub-contractors should be subjected to an OCG-supervised competitive tender process giving his office the ability to better scrutinize the particulars of all such sub-contracts, Christie said.

In a letter to the new prime minister on Friday, her first day in office, Christie said he was ready to meet with Portia Simpson-Miller or a government representative as soon as possible to discuss the issue and learn the “direction” the new administration was prepared to take regarding his recommendations and the PM’s commitment to fight corruption in Jamaica.

Go to Observer article
 

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