The Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court (ECSC) last week Monday marked its 50th year of existence reflecting on its many achievements throughout the years and the many challenges that still exists.
In a telecast that was broadcast simultaneously at special sittings of the court in all the nine member states and territories comprising the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States, Chief Justice Madam Justice Dame Janice M. Pereira provided a detailed analysis of the court’s history describing its Diamond Jubilee as a “signature milestone.”
“The Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court exists in my view, as a shining example of the possibilities of regional integration. It is a true regional structure dispensing justice across its 9 member states and territories, comprising the OECS,” the Chief Justice said.
“The ECSC was formed at a time when the British colonies of the Caribbean were going through significant political change and taking on greater control of their own affairs. It was therefore, only natural and right, that a court system be put in place in which the colonies could take control of forging their own destiny shaped by the norm and values of its people,” she added.
The ECSC, which was formally known as the ‘West Indies Associated States Supreme Court,’ was established by virtue of the West Indies Associated States Court Order, under Section 6 of the West Indies Act of 1967, in the Parliament of the United Kingdom, on February 22, 1967.
Turning the pages of history, the Chief Justice recalled that at the time of its establishment, the court’s headquarters was located in Grenada but it “was relocated to the island of St. Lucia in March of 1979 as a result of the change in Grenada’s constitutional status (during the period of the revolution) between 1979 and 1983.”
The court withdrew from the island and the People’s Revolutionary Government (PRG) of late Marxist Prime Minister, Maurice Bishop was forced to set up its own court system.
In 1983, the regional court was renamed the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court, and remained headquartered in St. Lucia.
The ECSC functions with two tiers, the High Court, which exists in each territory and the Court of Appeal (appellate court), which travels to each member state to hear appeal matters.
According to Madam Justice Pereira the appellate court comprises 5 Justices of Appeal, with a compliment of 23 judges and 4 Masters at the High Court level and that most of the member states and territories have at least two resident judges serving them.
In highlighting the many improvements made over the years, the female Chief Justice, pointed to the challenge dealing with “the case load of the court at both levels, (which) continues to grow from year to year.”
“The figures from the start of the new millennium are quite telling of the steady increase in the number of matters coming before the court,” she said, adding that “at the appellate level, in the judicial 3-year period 2000 -2003, a total of 627 cases were filed in the Court of Appeal…thus on average 209 appeals were filed each year…in 2010 alone, a total of 482 appeals were filed in the Court of Appeal. 5 years later this number increased to 507.”
According to the Chief Justice, “the ever increasing number of cases being brought before the court puts tremendous pressure on the court’s resources both financial and human.”
“It is no secret that the court has been plagued with the problem of a back log of cases,” which she said, “is continually being addressed.”
Madam Justice Pereira pointed to the ‘Jurist Project,’ which was recently implemented locally, and has “significantly reduced a number of outstanding matters, which have been languishing in the court system.”
She said the “delays in the system is a multi-faceted problem, which requires a committed multifaceted approach to a solution…”
In an effort to improve its effectiveness, the court introduced changes to its procedures, and according to the Chief Justice, one of the most significant advancements has been the “introduction of the Civil Procedure Rules (CPR) in the year 2000.”
She said, though “it (the CPR) may not be a perfect set of rules and will constantly need to be reviewed for improvements, (its) implementation vastly improved and streamlined the civil mitigating process; thus we went from a system where lawyers were able to dictate the pace at which a case is proceeded in the court system to a court led process providing timelines from the filing of the case to trial (and) gives the court the ability to effectively manage cases to ensure that matters are disposed of in a timelier manner.“
Additionally, she cited need for more to be done to increase public knowledge of the judiciary and how the system operates.
In an interview with THE NEW TODAY last week Monday, Director of Public Prosecutions, Christopher Nelson QC, paid tribute to the court for the way in which it demonstrated its maturity, spoke about the achievement and challenges faced locally in light of the back log of cases.
The DPP alluded to “the lack of resources, time, facilities and what have you, to effectively administer justice” and shared the sentiment expressed by the Chief Justice that more should be done to educate persons on the justice system.
“At this crucial juncture of the court, it is incumbent of the Bar, not just on the bench, to engage in greater public interaction,” he said.
“We are also keenly aware of the fact that justice is expensive (and) that there is a clamour from the public for increased and better legal services (and that) there is also the perennial perception of the public that things are moving very slow that clients at times feel short-changed; they feel that there is a culture of adjournments in part feed by delinquency”, he added.
DPP Nelson also spoke of the challenges currently being faced particularly at the Criminal Bar with a high number of unrepresented accused persons and the challenge that it poses to the administration of criminal justice.
He also expressed the hope that measures can be put in place to eradicate this problem, noting that “most accused persons aren’t even able to afford counsel (and that due) to the few attorneys available at the criminal bar you would find that most accused persons are unrepresented and that is a cause for adjournment.
“We need to strike a balance somewhere…something has to be constructed to address that deficiency”, he said, adding that “it would have to be partly state-funded partly pro-bono”.
The DPP went on to say: “We hope that pretty soon there can be some construct undertaken by the state…and the members of the Bar, who (have) the duty to ensure that justice is available. This is a challenge for the future and it is a challenge that we must face and deal with”.
Nelson, QC also made passing reference to a major challenge faced locally as the lack of adequate facilities to deal with mentally challenged persons who find themselves in trouble with the law.
He acknowledged that “there are a few mentally challenged persons currently being housed at the Richmond Hill Prisons,” and that the “Mt. Gay Mental Hospital (in St. George’s) cannot handle the criminal deranged and will not for longer than it is absolutely necessary”.
“There need to be a proper environment to address severe brutality,” he said.
Despite these challenges, the DPP expressed happiness to be an officer of the ECSC in light of the many improvements made over the last 50 years.
“This is a happy moment. I am proud to be an officer of the court at this time,” he declared.
The ECSC commemorates its 50th anniversary under the theme: “Embracing the past, celebrating the future.”
The celebration kicked off with a church service on Sunday at the Immaculate Conception Cathedral on Church Street, which was followed by a special sitting of the Supreme Court at High Court No. 2 on the Carenage on Monday.
Other activities planned include the annual lecture on April 6, at the Grenada Trade Centre, an Open House carded for the month of July, making pamphlets with information about the judiciary and the court system available to the public and a public information initiative to be undertaken by the Grenada Bar Association.