Justice delayed for lack of space, says CJ

| 18/01/2011

(CNS): The country’s senior judge has reiterated the pressing need for a new court building, as he says the lack of space means that the process of justice, especially in criminal cases, is taking too long. Although the courts are dealing with an increasing amount of criminal work and disposed of 1,344 in the Summary Courts and 100 cases in the Grand Court, Chief Justice Anthony Smellie said the time it takes to deal with them is a more important figure than the number of cases actually dealt with. He revealed that last year the average time for an indictment to be concluded in the Grand Court was more than twice the modern benchmark and the main reason for this growing delay was because there was no longer enough space to deal with the numbers.

Speaking at theopening of the Grand Court last week, Smellie pointed out that the time period for justice is a crucial consideration. Last year it took an average of 348 days for an indictment in the Grand Court to be dealt with, nearly twice as long as the modern benchmark of 180 days or 6 months – a standard which, he said, the local judicial service had managed to maintain until recently.

“The average time for disposal is the crucial benchmark because it measures the length of time before an accused person knows the outcome of the case,” the CJ stated. “In many cases this will involve defendants being incarcerated in the meantime. The implications for the state’s obligation to ensure the right to a fair and timely trial are therefore clear and everything that can reasonably be done to comply with that obligation must be done.”

The obvious response, he said, would be to convene more trials simultaneously, both in the Grand and Summary Courts. With the appointment of a fourth magistrate and the assistance of justices visiting from Jamaica to serve on the Grand Court’s Criminal Division that would be possible. However, Smellie noted that securing additional judicial personnel was not the only aspect.

“Criminal trials cannot be taken in camera and … more dedicated court rooms are needed for criminal trials. At present there are only three such court rooms available and these are always being used,” he pointed out.

He said the plans for a new courthouse project had been approved by government some time ago, and while he said he was well aware of the economic concerns, as soon as was practical he asked for the project to be reconsidered.

“Given the significant amounts already spent in acquiring the land and developing the design of the building to the stage of planning approval, it is very much to be expected that the project will be allowed to proceed as soon as funding can be arranged,” the chief justice added.

Although pressure on staff had been slightly alleviated by the transfer of some business to Kirk House, he said there was an urgent need for the new building, which has been recognized and accepted by government for more than a decade now.

James Bergstrom, President of the Cayman Islands Bar Association, also backed the CJ’s call for the new building. On behalf of the profession, he said that while the recent expansion at Kirk House to accommodate the Financial Services Division and the Court of Appeal was very welcome, the need for another modern court building remained.

“While the current financial position of government may not allow for immediate development, the project that was already approved should be revitalized as soon as is possible,” he added.

During his address the CJ said that a detailed statistical report would be available to the public shortly covering the work of the courts. He revealed, however, that during 2010 in the Summary Court 1,304 criminal cases filed and 1,344 were disposed of, including 40 from the 2009 backlog. There were also a staggering 9,662 traffic cases disposed of. In the Grand Court 108 new indictments were filed and 100 cases dealt with. He revealed that 77 indictments are being carried forward into 2011 and there are 10 indictments which have been in the system since before 2010.

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  1. Marek says:

    NINE-THOUSAND SIX HUNDRED COURT CASES… well, there is the problem … and it is easy to fix.

    Can not say this strongly enough.

    The vast majority of these cases are simply people who failed to pay their fines on time… this is a complete and total waste of the courts time, actually it is a waste of … everybody time.

    Starting immediately changes should be made whereby if you are late paying a ticket you should be able to simply pay double the fine across the street without the need for a wasted court case.

    This would eliminate more than 8,000 of those court cases.

    Cost go down by $1,000 a case in totally wasted time…

    This one simple change would make a difference of almost $10 million a year between savings and increased income from the fines.

    Somebody… please… scream in the right direct…

  2. Anonymous says:

    It’s way past time for us to have a Night Court.

    A Night Court would allow defendants, witnesses, and jurors, all to show up without having to take time off from their (mostly) day jobs to perform their civic duty.

    Parking would be available, and a judge or judges would be available for police to get emergecy search warrants etc.

  3. No Justice Here says:

     How can it be expected to have justice to proceed fast in this society when you have charges being brought against people in the courts by the agencies making the charge which is either incorrect, or not at all.  This waste not only the Courts time but the Judge’s as well. 

    Go sit and listen in court and see how frustrated the Judge is when case after case is presented with wrong charges, or the Judges instructions were ignored, or no charges, or can’t understand why a case is still in court from 2007 that should have been dealt with.

    There is a very clear situation where people are just not doing their jobs properly from the legal dept. to the agencies bringing the charges against someone.

    I was in court recently and heard a case of a man being brought to court for taking a pepsi and a red bull from a gas station, because he was drunk and didn’t have any money to pay for it.  Now does that warrant being brought before the courts by the police.  He should have been made to pay on the spot, and warned.  Is the police looking to rack up numbers and save face in the community?  If so with cases such as this it is a waste of time and the police should decide which makes sense to proceed with criminal charges from which don’t. If the vendor insists on pressing charges, then it’s again the Police to say this is going to tie up the courts and waste time and money, some discretion has to come into play.  

    The frustrated Judge’s are over whelmed by the inaccuracies of these cases, and in many instances they are thrown out or dismissed.

    When the cases come before the Courts it is the responsibility of the Legal Dept. to ensure that the files are correct, so whose dropping the ball here and wasting time and money??

    • Anonymous says:

      You are sooooo correct!

      The problem is not space, give the police and courts 1,000 court rooms and they will fill them.

      The problems are numerous and include poor police work, an inept Legal Dept. and a Court system that take 10 to 15 court appearences before a case is concluded.  Like many other departments of Government the Police, Legal Dept. and Courts management is very poor – space is not the problem, hold the trials rathere than allowing the same case to remain in the court system year after year.


  4. Anonymous says:

    Another example of neglect in cayman by various governments. the court building is a disgrace considering the amount of cases it hears. holding areas are barbaric and hold 25+ prisoners at times from northward in 4 tiny cells. northward prison is bursting at the seams with over 200 prisoners. cayman is changing for the worse yet people in power have failed to see this accept this over the years. talk the talk but cant walk the walk, save our youth? child week? you name it i heard it talked about and seen nothing still.

    build a new court building with secure courts and cells. one day someone will be shot walking over the main road to be produced at court ive seen them walking, the officers always on edge for the inevitible day they hear gunshots.

    build a bigger prison and employ QUALIFIED  people to work in it.

    sentence these unemployables once and for all and clean up cayman streets once and for all.

  5. Anonymous says:

    If I’m correct, we were trying to have new building(s) to fix the education system. Didn’t work too good so far. Sure you want a new building? Do you really think the judicial system will be more efficient and bring more convictions with a new building? Not so sure…sorry. You will need more than a backlog sheet to convince me.

    • Anonymous says:

      True, True, True

    • Anonymous says:

      isn’t funny! in today’s news, it is reported that the prisons services might have problems to conform with human rights…the solution? a new building!!!

  6. Anonymous says:

    The rest of us, whose taxes pay the judges and lawyers fat salaries, have to work from between say 7:00 to 8:30 am until 4:00 to 6:00pm in order to make ends meet. Instead of spending more of our money on new buildings, why dont they make better use of the existing ones, by extending their working hours beyond 10:00 to 3:00, and stop all that adjournment crap and get on with it.

    • Anonymous says:

      Space – utter rubbish!

      Stop the delay tactics of defence and Legal Dept. lawyers.

      Stop the foolish repeated delay of trials.

      The Chief Justice wants new buildings, trying to keep up with the Jonses.  If the Legal Dept. can move to a new home then why not me too?  Come on CJ, tell the judges to get on with the job and stop the repeated trial delays.

      Having been in the "belly of the beast" I know how the Legal Dept. lawyers can not see how their poor preparation and delay of trials in costing our Islands dearly.




      …and I am just a Soldier Crab

  7. Anonymous says:

    How about we get a respectable and well run police force to reduce crime then there will be no need to build nice buildings for the criminals to have their day in court.

    It seems like we have just decided their is going to be unlimited crime so lets build another building where lawyers can make a fortune defending these criminals.

    Prevention is better than cure!