CJ pleads for new court

| 15/01/2014

(CNS): The chief justice, once again, made it abundantly clear at the opening of the Grand Court Wednesday that Cayman needs a new courthouse. He said the jurisdiction was falling short of international standards and at risk of falling foul of its own constitution with increasing delays in justice. CJ Anthony Smellie noted that it is taking over a year for criminal cases to reach trial, double the international benchmark, as he revealed that 94 Grand Court cases from 2013 were being carried over to 2014. The chief justice acknowledged other issues, such as the management of cases by the police and the director of public prosecutions, as well as the shortage of defence attorneys, as contributing to the delays, but the main barrier to speedier justice, he stated emphatically, was the lack of space.

He said nothing highlights the current situation in the courts more than the massive number of cases in the Summary Court as well as the Grand Court that were being pushed over to the new year.

The CJ said that for more than a decade the local judiciary has been in need of a new courthouse and in the time since government had acknowledged and made plans for it, the situation had become steadily worse. Given the growing criminal case load, efforts had to be made to address the problem of space as it was seriously hampering the dispensation of justice in a timely fashion, he said.

However, for the first time since plans for a courthouse were placed on hold in 2007 as a result of the financial crisis, CJ Smellie pointed to a glimmer of hope. He said two business case proposals for a new court would be passed to Cabinet in the next few months and that next year he may finally be able to talk about the plans for the desperately needed facility.

Although the CJ did not go into details about the two business cases, local attorney Dale Crowley, the president of the Caymanian Bar Association (CBA), said during his presentation that the organization had been involved in discussions with government to utilize the Glass House, the now empty former government administration facility. Government had planned to demolish the building because of major problems with the structure but it appears it may now face renovation into a courthouse.

The chief justice welcomed the support from the CBA and the Cayman Islands Law Society for the new court building, as he emphasized the difficulties that the courts faced with growing caseloads in every division, from family and finance to criminal and the Court of Appeal.

He said the court needed more staff as well as space but a new courthouse was undoubtedly the most important issue facing the local justice system because that would enable simultaneous trials, which was the only way to clear the backlog and prevent a new one developing.

Problems with the legal aid budget, which was not able to stretch to a number of less serious crimes but ones which still saw offenders jailed, was another area of concern raised by Chief Justice Smellie.

"We continue to see an increase in the need for legal aid commensurate with the numbers of serious criminal, child care and constitutional cases coming before the courts. This is borne out by the number of applications – up from 276 in 2012 to 370 last year for criminal cases and from 281 to 313 for civil cases; increases of34% and 12%, respectively," he said.

The continuing shortage of lawyers willing to take on criminal work, and in particular legal aid work, was also a major problem, he said. However, he noted that at least now they were being paid in a more timely fashion as a result of this new government’s increase to legal aid in this financial year’s budget.

He pointed to the need for government to appoint a guardian committee, as per the new children’s law, and pointed out that the impact of the Bill of Rights was going to increase the pressure on and further fuel the need for yet more court resources.

However, the chief justice welcomed the pre-approved list of 13 judges that the Cayman Islands courts can now call on to help with the workload from both the UK and the region. He said all of the judges listed had worked here before and the ability to call on these pre-approved legal professionals was welcomed.

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  1. Anonymous says:

    A lot of minor offences could be dealt with by way of fixed penalty tickets, particularly traffic offences, littering and minor narcotics possession offences (target the dealers instead). The Police issue them on the spot and you get 50% off if you pay them within 7 days. If you don't pay within 30 days (without good reason), you get a 50% surcharge (maybe every 30 days thereafter?). You should always have the option to go to Court, but most people won't bother and will just pay up.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Someone needs to introduce the CJ to a shift system.

    Hold some courts at night and people wouldn't have to take the day off work to attend, and they could also find a place to park.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Thank you CJ for speaking up…people have been blaming the courts for delays in trials now we know the problem…no space, no court rooms available! Cayman, lets build that new courthouse now.

  4. anonymous says:

    The new courthouse is already designed and just sitting there waiting final go ahead….I think Burns Connolly was the architect. We need to get him to dust off those drawings and build the thing. Stop wasting time government. If I recall its been years since that was designed and has just been sitting there with Cabinet.

    • Anonymous says:

      I seemed to recall that the old design was based on an American Court building and was unsuitable for needs.  Is that right?

      • anonymous says:

        you are not…court was designed with close participation of court team and justice empoyees..

    • Anonymous says:

      Designed by overseas architects, Connolly their local rep. At a cost of a million dollars more than other firms bidding same project…

  5. Anonymous says:

    Lots of empty space in the CIG building…ideal place, a lot of the criminals already work there, will cut transportation costs.. :)))

  6. Anonymous says:

    Glass house is sitting empty. There are no "structural problems" with it. It simply doesn't meet the fire safety code because it only has exits on the ground floor. Stick couple of fire stairs on the back and make them accessible from each floor and you're back in business.

    Why is everything here seen as an insurmountable problem that can only be solved by spending tens of millions of dollars? Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

    • Anonymous says:

      Excellent idea…you are certainly not a civil servant.

      perhaps old court can be kept for civil international cases and the glass house for speeding and criminal cases…..near the police station.

    • Diogenes says:

      Seem to recall one of the reasons for justifying the Government administration building was that the Glass House was no longer useable from a health and saftey perspective because of mould spores, and their removal was uneconomic.  It was meant to be demolished but CIG lacks the money.  

    • Anonymous says:

      Wrong. The Glass House has been declared unfit for occupation. Before it was closed, multiple people got sick from various problems with the building. 

      • Anonymous says:

        I think you're confusing it with the Tower Building which had major issues and was declared a "sick building".

        • Anonymous says:

          A fair comment, but there's no confusion on my end – both buildings had problems. The Tower Building just had worse problems. 

  7. Anonymous says:

    Speedier justice is not brought on by a building. Make the administrative processes more efficient and make lawyers more accountable when they are not prepared.

    As a former jurer I attended countless court sessions waiting to be called only to hear that the lawyers were not prepared or that paperwork was not ready. This clogs up the courts and wastes everyone's time. A new building will not fix this.

    • Anonymous says:

      That is the reality of criminal law work. It is messy, inefficient, process-driven and allwith the aim of ensuring as many just outcomes as possible. Nobody asks that you understand how it works. You just need to understand how important it is to a functioning society and trust that the people who run it know better than you – which they do.


      I'm afraid that of all the inefficiencies in the system, the lack of available space is the easiest to fix. The Court House is the last remaining 70s CIG building still in (extremely heavy) use and that speaks for itself. Ignore all this noise about legal aid and 'criminals going free'. If you want a justice system for 2014, put it in a 2014 environment. It's not rocket science.


      The public does not appreciate the massive amount of time and effort wasted trying to function in that building. The inside is so poorly laid out and furnished that the staff feel like they are the ones on trial, daily. You don't think that has an impact on how they do their jobs? What are your offices like? If they are nice, do you credit them for some of your enthusiasm for your job? If they are not nice, do you complain about them? What makes court staff any different from you? Do you have even the slightest clue of the sophisticated financial matters being handled in Cayman's courts? Billions of dollars? Video-links to courts in London? Witness and victim protections under human rights legislation that require physical implementation in the court rooms? The fight that Cayman is in to make practising as a lawyer here more attractive than it is in 2 dozen other jurisdictions with similar tax and lifestyle advantages? No, of course you don't. We could have built two new courthouses with what we have wasted on Boatswain's Beach.


      Not to mention, moving the Court House will create space to expand Heroes Square into a proper park. Wouldn't that be nice? It would be like we were a real society. We might even get rid of the chickens. Or do you like the chickens? Would you like them if you were trying to defend someone facing the loss of their liberty and couldn't finish a sentence without a chicken drowning you out?


      Get real, all of you. All who are involved in Cayman's system of justice need, deserve and simply must have a more fitting, flexible, spacious environment in which to do their work. This is not up for discussion. Pop in some time, have a look around and ask yourself if this is really a proper place for our society to be weighing its heaviest dilemmas. The lawyers, the judges, the court staff are all demoralised and have been for at least a decade. If you don't think that matters then you have no right to complain about soft sentencing, ineffective prosecution, or anything else. 

  8. Anonymous says:

    You can also try to be more efficient and work harder.

    In the meantime let traffic offences to be dealt with by the police and of course legalize marijuana.

    You can probably downsize the court by then.


  9. Anonymous says:

    What about times of operation? Would the CJ have court start time from 8:30 (SHARP) until at least 5pm?

    We could start using the staff and resources we do have and if we 'decriminalise' certain offences and change penalty to fines woudl eliminate court time for non-criminal breaches of law.

    • Anonymous says:

      Another ill-informed, populist view. Mrs. Assistant Deputy Registrar who lives in North Side is not going to get up at 6am so court can start at 8.30. Court staff need time to liaise with each other and ensure that each court room has the right facilities, security etc. in place for the day. Judges have lives, spouses, kids to take to school too and they need time to get in and do some pre-reading – in the interest of shortening the hearing and improving thedecision they will eventually make, of course. Let's not forget the public, who if they have business at court need time to get their feet under the desk before leaving work. And then there are the lawyers, of course, how could we forget about them. On an important court day a litigator gets in around 6.30 – 7am and has the following to do:

      – finalise documents, if not finalised and filed in a panicked frenzy the previous day – and you always end up bringing more stuff to court no matter what, usually signed and photocopied eight times in a rush

      – confirm the room, judge, start time, etc and make sure everyone else involved has this information (believe it or not, all of these things can change on the morning)

      – prepare copies of all bundles and documents for everyone attending from your firm, sometimes for every other firm involved too – thousands of pages and at least one paralegal who is being paid overtime. Usually you try to do this the day before but often there are arguments about what should be put in front of the judge, and other parties are often amending their submissions late the previous evening

      – posslbly meet with counsel flown out from London – your firm needs to carry all of that person's things to court, make sure they have their favourite coffee, etc. – this person is basically treated like a celebrity

      – review strategy, consider any overnight developments

      – if your client is a lay person, there is usually a lot of explaining to do about the court process; often you need time to ask them things – called 'taking instructions' – so that you can answer the judge's inevitable questions. One of those questions might provoke memory of a relevant document, which then has to be made as court-ready as possible in a very short space of time

      – lots of e-mails:sending a last minute affidavit to the court staff, telling the partner who is on holiday what is happening, letting your other important clients and colleagues know you'll be in court for the morning/all day/for the next week/month

      You get the point (hopefully). All of this and more has to be done earlier if you want court to start bang on 8.30 – which it never, ever, will due to traffic anyway. Everyone who managed to show up promptly would just be wasting their time.

      Basically, that can't work. Oh, and judges and lawyers already sit late regularly if it makes sense in the situation (someone almost done making submissions for example, will usually be allowed to finish so that the next person can start freshly in the morning). 

      As far as criminal matters, as you can probably guess from this post, I am not a criminal practitioner, but accused persons need to be taken to and from the prison securely, and the people handling them have their own working hours too. You don't just change the court start and end time like that without having to change a whole load of other things.

      Think about it. The 10am start time (9.30 for some matters) gives all the stakeholders in the process 90 minutes to ensure that 10am means 10am – everyone knows what they need to know, is in the right place, with the right things to do justice by all. If you had any idea what is involved in being at court, early, all fires put out, everyone fully informed and supplied, ready to put your best case to the judge – who almost always walks in the room dead on 10am – you would not make these kinds of suggestions.

      Even if you think all of this is perfectly in order and should be implemented, regardless of the cost to the people involved or to justice itself, consider the very simple proposition that people do not work well together when they are i) cramped or ii) separated. With its multiple, oversubscribed buildings, currently, the Judicial Administration is both cramped and separated. You want it to work better, right? Well, this is the first thing that needs to be addressed. 



  10. Anonymous says:

    Another new courthouse to let criminals walk free? The ci government would be better off having court in a tent! Less $ lost on our failing court system! Gt

  11. Sea Urchin says:

    I agree and the new building should be placed  close to the prison.  No need for prisoners to be transported to the heart of the capital. There would be a lot of costs savings  and synergies with this  move.

  12. Anonymous says:

    No more spending! Hold night court sessions.

    • Anonymous says:

      Court house open 24 hours? Like an essential service. Staff would work in shifts such asthe hospital, firemen and police.  That would shorten the court date waiting times.