The Crisis in the Justice System

The State of Grenada comprises three independent but co-equal arms of Government: the Executive (Cabinet), the Legislature (Parliament) and the Judiciary (the Courts). In order for Government to function efficiently, all three arms must be fully operational, none compromised. If one arm ceases to function, there is national chaos. The chaos may not be readily noticeable, but its disastrous effects are sure to be eventually felt by all.

Last Monday, lawyers held a public protest to bring focus on the dire state of the Judiciary in this country. In any country, when lawyers resort to protest action, we know there is a serious crisis at hand.

Since the mid-1990s, the Judiciary has been neglected. The NNP administration for years has been shirking its responsibility to fund and upgrade the courts, the Supreme Court Registry and the Deeds and Land Registry. When the NDC assumed office in 2008, the system was on the verge of collapse. The NDC Government undertook certain remedial measures, including:

(1). With World Bank, desperately needed digitisation of the records at the Deeds & Land Registry. This was to save the records, some of which were already partially lost, and to eliminate the actual handling of the fragile ledgers. The Deeds & Land Registry is the official archive for all land transactions in Grenada. Incomplete records therefore mean unreliable title searches. Unreliable searches put the people and the financial institutions doing land transactions at risk. The project was well advanced by the 2013 elections. There was absolutely no reason why it should not have continued, but it was stopped by this uncaring, reckless NNP administration.

(2). As part of the digitisation project, we introduced online title searches. The need to physically go to the Registry to do title searches (handling the fragile records) was being phased out. Lawyers were already utilising the system. By 2014, the online service was stopped because the Government stopped paying the necessary subscription which was a manageable sum.

(3). By 2013, the NDC Government was in the advanced stages of establishing a land agency. Draft legislation was already done and some staff was identified. That agency would have separated the Deeds & Land Registry from the Supreme Court Registry making for greater efficiency in the system all around. Again there is no good reason why this was not pursued.

(4). In 2011, the NDC set up the Commercial & Intellectual Property Office and passed new Intellectual Property laws. This development removed the registration of Companies, Businesses, Trade Marks & Patents from the Supreme Court Registry. The improved efficiency that resulted was one factor in our improved ranking on the ease of doing business index. That office had to be closed for over a month last year due to neglect by the Government.

(5). For the first time ever, in 2012, the NDC Cabinet approved the appointment of 2 Judicial Assistants to help judges with research and preparation of judgments. These positions were to be filled for the 2013 fiscal year. Up to this day that has not been done. This is how a Government that says it cares for the people, especially the poor, behaves.

(6). The NDC Government negotiated the acquisition of the LIME Building to serve as a temporary Hall of Justice until a permanent home could be constructed. The work was very advanced by February 2013. That’s why the courts were able to move into that facility during 2014.

(7). Work was very advanced for the construction of the Hall of Justice at Mt. Wheldale. There is no conceivable reason why, in the last 6 years, this project was not completed. The architectural drawings, the site and some other resources were already done and identified when the NNP assumed office. This failure only points to pure incompetence and an uncaring Government.

(8). Two additional judges were appointed to cater for the backlog and the increased case load.

(9). The NDC was in the process of sourcing new court reporting equipment to introduce real time preparation of trial transcripts. We were aware of the hardship people endured in having to wait years for judgments and trial transcripts to have their appeals to be heard. Now, some people have been waiting up to six years for their transcripts and the court reporting unit remains under equipped and under staffed.

All of the above initiatives of the NDC were abandoned by the NNP because they have decided that these issues do not win them votes. They are demonstrating their total lack of care for the ordinary man and their obsession with power.

It is unconscionable for Mitchell to appear on national TV and tell the nation that things are not as bad and that the lawyers are not accurately representing the facts. No one but Mitchell must take responsibility for the dire state of the judiciary. Under our laws, the only entity responsible for the Courts is the Executive. Imagine he is even blaming the Privy Council, stating that they never helped. Since when is a Court a funding agency? Shame on you Mitchell!

The NNP has shown time and again that they are a wholly incompetent bunch. They did nothing for the judiciary for 13 years between 1995 and 2008 and even after getting a jump start from the NDC, they have proved incapable of building on that start or of starting any new initiatives to enhance the judiciary.

In life, anyone who is given a start and does not build on it is deemed an abject failure. So is the NNP with the judiciary of Grenada.

(The above reflects the views of the main opposition National Democratic Congress)

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