President of the Grenada Bar Association (GBA), Ruggles Ferguson is calling on the ruling New National Party (NP) administration of Prime Minister, Dr. Keith Mitchell to pay urgent attention to the Justice system before the situation degenerates into further crisis.
His comments came against the backdrop of the closure of the No 2 High Court since last Tuesday (Jan 27th), after the Judge and Staff felt that it was too unsafe to continue occupying the building housing the court.
Speaking to the media this week, Ferguson noted that the Judge had been pointing out several health and safety concerns with the court building which is located at the end of Lucas Street (close to Market
Several times the court has had to adjourn with the onset of heavy rain.
THE NEW TODAY understands that the mould in the building, which was constructed decades ago, also affects both the Judge and staff, triggering allergies and other illnesses.
Ferguson pointed out that the Judge has been complaining about the unsuitability of the Lucas Street building for several months now.
Undertakings were given by the State to address the situation and have all the High Courts relocated to the Cable & Wireless building on the Carenage by September 2015, to coincide with the opening of the Law Year.
Ferguson noted that there are 132 matters pending before the High Court for trial in the current criminal assizes, which represent a significantly higher number of matters than usual.
He said then that even with two of the three full time Judges sitting in the Criminal High Court, it will be a herculean task to significantly reduce the list.
“Now, with only one of the two criminal courts operational, the already huge backlog is expected to climb, with persons being committed to stand trial in the High Court on an almost daily basis after completion of preliminary inquiries in the Magistrate’s Courts.
There are eight (8) magistrates courts operating, in Grenada (7) and Carriacou (1)”, he remarked.
The GBA boss pointed out that apart from the growing crisis with criminal matters, there are well over two hundred (200) matters pending trial on the High Court civil list.
Only one of the three High Courts deal with civil matters full-time.
Justice Margaret Mohammed, the civil judge who sat in High Court No 3, returned to Trinidad at the end of October 2014 to assume duties as a High Court judge there.
She was replaced in November by Justice Gerhard Wallbank – a temporary three month appointment – whose acting tenure ends this week, January 31.
Ferguson lamented the fact that up to now no replacement for Justice Wallbank has been announced.
Several months ago, Justice Mohammed and her staff at the No 3 High Court had to actually down tools before the safety concerns in that court, then on the Carenage, were finally addressed.
The court eventually relocated to the Cable & Wireless building on the Carenage.
Ferguson warned against the continued approach that seems to await the development of a crisis, before any steps are taken to address the situation.
According to Ferguson, the Bar, which is “deeply concerned” with the current state of affairs in the Justice System, is currently engaging the various stakeholders to avert any further crisis.
In its 2013 manifesto which saw the NNP sweep the polls 15-0, the Mitchell-led party promised “to move swiftly to address the issue of failing physical infrastructure at the Courts, at both Magistrates’ and Supreme Court levels”.
The ruling party also promised to create additional courts in Grenada such as – Commercial Court, Industrial Court, Family Court and Drug
Offences Court – to deal with matters which require separate expeditious or specialist judicial attention.