At least one local attorney is calling for a more protective approach towards the process of cross examining minors, who are victims of or witnesses to sexual crimes.
Attorney-at-Law Gerry Edwin last Friday called for Grenada to adopt the Judicial Reform and Institutional Strengthening (JURIST) Project protocols, which provides for victims of sex crimes to be questioned in the judges’ Chambers instead of in the court room.
According to Edwin, he felt this is necessary in light of a recent experience he had while providing representation to a minor who was the victim of sexual abuse.
He said that greater discretion should be employed by members of the judiciary because of the trauma that victims of such crimes are forced to relive, especially, when being questioned by the defense lawyers for accused persons.
At present, the law allows what can be described as very intimidating cross examination of minors in the presence of alleged perpetrators.
“I am calling for the adoption of the Jurist Project Protocols on the treatment of children who are victims of sexual abuse to be questioned in the judge’s chambers and not in the court house,” said Attorney Edwin.
He added that “as it stands, a child who can barely stand above the witness box in the court house is cross examined by a criminal defense lawyer to explain when and where the abuse occurred”.
“To my mind that is a second round of abuse,” he declared.
According to the attorney, this special accommodation by the Jurist protocol for children who are victims of crimes and in particular sexual abuse is long overdue, noting that Grenada has one of the highest sexual abuse cases in the Eastern Caribbean.
“I don’t think we can wait any longer to bring and adopt the Jurist protocol into Grenada. These are international standards that says, when a child is a victim of sexual abuse, that child cannot be questioned by a lawyer in the court house (and) must be brought to the judge’s chambers with a social worker, without the hostility of the defendant glaring at that child and the bellowing of my colleagues asking that child to recreate the incident of the abuse. That must stop,” he argued.
Additionally, Edwin said that such a process will not adversely affect the outcome of sensitive cases as it is already the norm in countries around the world.
“We want to put the children first and so, experience has taught us that children are quite capable of telling the truth in an environment where they feel secure and protected…in the adversarial context of the court room, it is less likely to get the full story of what occurred because that child is afraid of being questioned by the person who is representing the accused (and) the accused is glaring at that child,” he remarked.
President of the Grenada Human Rights Organisation (GHRO) Milton Coy also endorsed Attorney Edwin’s plea.
Coy said: “We believe that when we are talking about protection, we also have to look at the reality that the victim needs to be protected and as I listened to Mr. Edwin speak about the trauma at times that takes place in the court when minors are being cross examined, I think it’s a blatant abuse of the victims’ rights.
“So, the intervention of this project, I think is so timely, because we also have to take into consideration the victims and that in our view is very important in the justice process,” he added.
The JURIST Project is a 5-year regional Caribbean judicial reform initiative funded under the arrangement with the Government of Canada and is working with judiciaries in the region to support their own efforts to improve court administration and strengthen the ability of the courts and the judiciary to resolve cases efficiently and fairly.