Local attorney-at-law, Ruggles Ferguson has re-echoed the call made by former OECS Chief Justice, Sir Denis Byron for the court system in the Eastern Caribbean to increasingly turn towards the greater utilisation of technology and meditation to tackle the multitude of cases in the system.
Ferguson made the call in his capacity as President of the OECS Bar Association while delivering an address to mark the opening of the new 2014-15 law year.
The attorney recalled that Sir Denis who is now in charge of the Trinidad and Tobago-based Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) had delivered a keynote address at 25th Anniversary Gala Dinner of lawyers and placed on the agenda for consideration, the greater use of technology in the disposition of court matters.
He spoke of the former Chief Justice of the OECS making out a case for the adoption of electronic filing and serving of documents, the introduction of mandatory meditation, and the hearing of more and more court applications via video-conference in order to speed up the justice system in the sub-region.
“Great merit lies in these recommendations, which are deserving of further consideration and implementation”, Ferguson told local lawyers and pointed to Jamaica as one island that “provides an example of mandatory meditation”.
“We are pleased to hear of the continued effort by the court to facilitate electronic filing and more timely production of transcripts”, he added.
According to Ferguson, the long wait for transcripts in most of the islands is the single greatest factor militating against the timely hearing of appeals.
“We urge constituent Bars to promote the greater use of meditation as an effective tool in the resolution of disputes. We urge constituent Bars too to continue to raise their voices to ensure that the respective OECS States at least pay their dues to the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court; that proper facilities are put in place for the proper administration of Justice; that adequate staff and funding are made available to the local courts”, he said.
“If we do not raise our collective voices and take appropriate action, significant changes will not take place, especially in these times of scarce resources”, he added.
Grenada was recently affected when the Justices of Appeal refused to visit the island to hear cases due to the non-payment of long-outstanding fees owed to them.
The Justices are expected in the country next month after the 19-month old Keith Mitchell-led government made certain payments on the arrears.
Ferguson lamented that the current justice system in the sub-region faces “very challenging times” and has been forced to operate historically with very limited physical, human, technological and financial resources.
He went on to say: “Like all other sectors, it feels the impact of the world economic crisis. On top of all the existing limitations and challenges, several governments fail to pay their annual contributions to the court.
“All of this is happening in the context of hundreds of new matters being filed in court each year and a huge and growing backlog of cases. In one State, trial dates for High Court matters are being set as far back as 2019.
Ferguson also made some passing comments on the new rules that were put in place in 2000 aimed at speeding up civil proceedings in the law courts.
“Our CPR 2000 aims to ensure a speedy, efficient and cost-effective system of Justice. An impatient public continues to demand more speed and efficiency within the system. They want Justice now.
“How can members of the public have confidence and trust in a Justice system that takes years to resolve disputes – many times with parties or valuable witnesses passing on before the trial date comes on?
“On the other hand, how can a Justice system respond effectively to the increasingly growing caseload without adequate resources?
Despite the challenges confronting the judiciary, the attorney who was re-elected earlier in the year to the post of President of the Grenada Bar Association (GBA) said that these challenges are not insurmountable.
He repeated calls for the establishment of Bench-Bar Committees in all the jurisdictions to more effectively tackle the many and varied issues impacting on the efficient administration of Justice, the independence of the judiciary and the rule of law.
He pointed out that Bench-Bar Committees allow representatives of the Bar, Bench, Magistracy, AG’s and DPP’s Chambers, Registrars, and Permanent Secretaries in Ministries of Legal Affairs to collectively and more effectively tackle the many challenges facing the administration of Justice.
“Together with the Bar and other stakeholders we can overcome all challenges with greater unity, closer collaboration and the complete embrace of modern technology”, Ferguson said.