(Fourth Article in a Series)
by Dr. Lawrence A. Joseph
The nature of a country’s court system inevitably plays an important role especially in its social and economic development. An efficient and effective court system encourages confidence amongst the general public and amongst potential investors in that if they are wronged, they know that redress would not be too far away. Sad to say, the Court system in Grenada provides a very slow avenue for redress. In general, litigants in civil cases have to wait for over seven years and more in order to have final determinations on their matters. At the moment, there are hundreds of cases waiting in the pipeline to be heard so this problem needs urgent attention.
Grenada is just one of several participants in the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court which Grenada refers to as the Supreme Court of Grenada and the West Indies Associated States. The present legislation which enables this participation is the West Indies Associated States Supreme Court (Grenada) Act of 2010 which superseded a 1971 Act. The court is an itinerant regional court with its headquarters located in St. Lucia and comprises a High Court and a Court of Appeal.
The jurisdiction of the High Court includes trial of civil matters such as breach of contracts where the claim for damages is above ten thousand dollars, and tortious issues such as libel and damage to property where the claim for damages is more than seven thousand five hundred dollars. In cases where the claim for damages are less than the amounts stated, then the magistrates’ courts may hear them. Criminal matters which are generally tried in the High court are serious offences which include such offences as murder, rape, grievous bodily harm, arson, and robbery. These offences are referred to as indictable offences in which heavy prison sentences may be imposed and are tried before judge and jury in the High Court.
Besides hearing the abovementioned matters, the High Court or a judge of the High Court in Chambers is usually called upon to issue injunctions in particular cases. An order of mandamus may be granted by the court which requires a specific act to be done by an individual or individuals; an order of certiorari may be granted which requires any proceedings or matter be removed into the High Court; and an order of prohibition may be granted for prohibiting or removing the proceedings or matter as the case may be.
The Court of Appeal may hear appeals both from the High Court and from the Magistrates’ Courts. On hearing of an appeal from any order of the High Court in any civil cause or matter, the Court of Appeal is empowered to confirm, vary, amend, set aside that order or order a new trial. A person convicted on indictment may appeal to the Court of Appeal as of right against his or her conviction on any ground of appeal which involves a question of law. On any ground of appeal which involves a question of fact alone, or a question of mixed law and fact, or any other ground which appears to the Court of Appeal to be sufficient ground of appeal, leave must be received from the Court of Appeal or upon the certificate of the Judge who tried the convicted person that it is a fit case for appeal against his or her conviction. With regards to appeal against sentence, leave of the Court of Appeal must be sought, unless the sentence is one fixed by law.
The Court of Appeal may allow an appeal against conviction if the Court decides that the verdict of the jury should be set aside on the ground that it is unsafe and unsatisfactory. The Court may, notwithstanding that it is of the opinion that the point raised in the appeal might be decided in favour of the appellant, dismiss the appeal if it considers that no miscarriage of justice has actually occurred. In other situations, the Court may quash the conviction, and direct a judgment and verdict of acquittal to be entered, or order a new trial. In the case of appeal against sentence, the Court may vary the sentence downwards or upwards or may dismiss the appeal. In accordance with section 104 of the Grenada Constitution, persons may appeal from the decisions of the Court of Appeal to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council based in the United Kingdom. Some appeals may be made as of right, others with the leave of the Court of Appeal and still others with special leave of the Privy Council.
Whilst the court system in Grenada is playing an important role in the country’s development, there is still a lot of room for improvement. One significant answer to cutting down on the massive backlog seems to be to increase the number of judges presently operating in Grenada from three to five for a specified period. This means that the financial commitment to the court by government would have to be increased and all due payments must be paid in a timely manner. Lawyers too also have to play their part by not requesting unnecessary adjournments.