It was a slow grind for the October 2018 Criminal Assizes which closed in December with only 14 cases completed out of the more than 139 matters that were listed for adjudication.
As the backlog of cases mount, the majority of the cases that were not heard in the recent sitting will be traversed to the upcoming January 2019 Assizes.
Court officials have said that the situation was not helped with the unexpected disruption in the justice system in May last year, brought on by challenges posed by radiation at the LIME building on The Carenage in St. George’s, which at that time housed the island’s four (4) High Courts; two (2) criminal courts (High Court No. 2 & 5) and two (2) civil courts (High Court No. 3 & 4).
The authorities were forced to close the courts and to find a temporary solution with the use of a section of the Parliament building at Mt. Wheldale and the Trade Centre Annex, which facilitated a criminal court and a civil court.
The criminal high court sat for only 44 working days before holding the closing ceremony, which was attended by a host of jurors but was poorly attended by members of the local bar.
One of the few lawyers in attendance, Attorney-at-Law George Prime, in addressing the gathering, acknowledged the hardships faced by lawyers but was sympathetic also to the prisoners who are also being affected by the high court crisis.
“Yes, (there is) hardship for lawyers but hardship for people in the prison too,” the criminal defense attorney stated, making the point that equally affected, are the prisoners at the Richmond Hill Prison who would have already entered a plea or were found guilty and are awaiting sentencing.
“And they are there (just) up at the prison waiting, while the wheels of justice rolls,” he said, noting that there are currently “406 inmates” at the overcrowded prison, “12 who are sleeping on the ground.”
How do you explain that? He asked, further pointing out that there are as much as “five (5) men (inmates) sleeping in one (1) room,” at the prison.
Time and time again some lawyers and inmates alike have voiced concerns that the conditions at the prison are deplorable and are in violation of the human rights of these inmates.
Attorney Prime expressed the view that “the public deserves better than that.”
Additionally, he was not optimistic that “we would have a new court by December 31st, 2018,” as requested by the President of the bar, Lisa Taylor in discussions with state officials.
Speaking on the unexpected closure of the high courts in a recent interview with THE NEW TODAY, another affected lawyer, Jerry Edwin, from the law firm of Eden Law Chambers explained that “access to courts is a key article in the United Nationals Universal Declarations of Human Rights, 1948.
“The closure of courts is also a violation of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948,” Attorney Edwin said, adding “and we see it in the decision of the Court of Appeal recently, when they let a man go because his appeal could not be heard”.
Attorney Edwin recalled that the inmate served his sentence but “couldn’t get his transcripts for his appeal to be heard”.
“We have that crisis in Grenada (and) this is a clear violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” he said.
Meanwhile, word has not been forthcoming from government about whether or not all the high courts will be facilitated when the January 2019 assizes begins.
However, a number of matters have been scheduled for sentencing on January 18, before Justice Gilford at the St. George’s No. 1 High Court.