The Grenada Bar Association (GBA) has called on the Keith Mitchell government to provide at minimum, suitable facilities to temporarily house at least one criminal court and one civil court after the two facilities that have been prepared were deemed unsuitable by its users last week.
The call was made three days after the opening of the 2018-2019 Law Year last week Tuesday (September 18), during a ceremony held at the newly renovated High Court No. 1 building on St. John’s Street, which has once again been rendered unsuitable.
The following day (last week Wednesday), High Court No. 3, which was temporarily housed at the CAIPO building on Upper Lucas Street, St. George had to be evacuated due to reports of rat infestation.
During an emergency extraordinary meeting last week Friday to consider the current crisis facing the court, the Bar passed three resolutions.
(1). That the Government of Grenada must provide, at minimum, suitable facilities for temporarily housing one criminal court and one civil court no later than Friday, September 28, 2018.
(2). Provided suitable facilities are made available by this deadline and are approved by a committee comprising the Bench, the Bar and other relevant stakeholders, the Grenada Bar Association will then advise whether it may be prepared to occupy those facilities and advise our clients and the public to do the same.
(3). The Grenada Bar Association demands that the Government of Grenada must provide suitable accommodations to house all High Courts of Grenada and ancillary offices no later than December 31, 2018.
Addressing the opening ceremony, President of the Grenada Bar Association (GBA), Attorney-at-Law Lisa Taylor said, the crisis facing the court is unacceptable.
She brought into focus “the systemic historical neglect that has bedeviled the judicial system” over the years adding that “what is required now going forward is a type of urgent prioritisation (on government’s end to provide adequate facilities to house the high court).
Attorney Taylor, was echoing the sentiments expressed by Chief justice of the OECS Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court, Dame Janice Pereira, who in her remarks marking the opening of the new law year, which was broadcasted live from St. Kitts and Nevis to the other 8 member states and territories simulcast, radio and Internet, urged governments of member states to give priority to providing adequate court facilities to ensure the proper and timely delivery of justice to the people.
According to the Chief Justice, who took time out to note the local court crisis and in the island of St. Lucia which also closed its court this year due to security reasons, “the lack of proper court facilities is as old as the court itself.
“51 years on since the establishment of this court, little if anything has been done – Court rooms are still housed in ill-suited buildings which have posed attendance security and health risks to court users and occupiers,” she remarked.
The Chief Justice said: “Whilst courtroom closures are understandable following the passage of hurricanes and the like, it is unacceptable that court users and operators have been consistently placed in harm’s way in respect of their health and security.
“These failures pose a real threat to access and delivery of justice,” she noted, while urging the heads of governments “in all member states to prioritise the construction of Halls of Justice and make them a reality”.
Dame Janice also reflected on another issue which has been plaguing the court for years, involving the current capacity of the court offices or the lack of it thereof, to produce transcript of court proceedings and the frustrations currently experienced by litigants, practitioners as well as judges.
“This deficiency,” she said, “cannot be overstated,” noting that “transcripts of court proceedings are vital to the appellate process in the bulk of cases”.
“This current incapacity, has been rendered so by the failure of many governments to provide the courts with the needed personnel and equipment for the production of transcripts”, she added.
The Chief Justice recalled that “pleas have been made directly by me to governments… particularly in those states, where the resultant delays in the ability of litigants to prosecute their appeals have become especially troubling”.
“These failures are threatening and in some cases have resulted in a denial of access to justice,” she stressed, while urging governments “to support the court with measures that will ensure that the transcripts are prepared in a timely manner and to ensure a better quality of the delivery of justice”.
The Chief Justice Pereira called on the people of the region to show an interest in having these matters addressed.
“You the people of the region must be interested and must voice that interest of having those matters addressed. The courts are there to serve you and you must become engaged in the change that you wish to see,” she declared.
Following the ceremony marking the opening of the new law term, outspoken Attorney-at-Law Anselm Clouden alluded to the deficiency in the court system in an interview with reporters.
Clouden said: “You have appellants who have appealed their convictions and sentences – some for the past 8 years and their appeals cannot be heard because there is a deficiency in the preparation of transcripts, a lack of man power (and) proper recording”.
“Transcripts, when prepared are sometimes inaudible…and there seems to be no end to it”, he added.