IMPACT Justice Project to improve deficiencies in CARICOM justice system

Christopher Nelson

by Curlan Campbell, NOW Grenada

  • Harmonised model criminal code will bring an end to debate regarding the Age of Criminal Responsibility
  • Grenada is first in region to allow the mediators to use specific community centres across the island to conduct mediation

Director of Public Prosecutions Christopher Nelson is of the fervent view that the harmonised model criminal code will bring an end to the age-old debate regarding the Age of Criminal Responsibility.

According to Nelson, there still exists within Grenada’s criminal code, discrepancies that clash with other legislation when dealing with juveniles under the age of 18.

For example, he says there is a presumption that a child under 12 cannot commit a criminal offence but in the evidence act, the presumption is at the age of 13. Nelson said this conflict in age could also be seen in defilement cases.

“So, there is a lot of discrepancies — the juvenile age is 18, [but] you have a 16-year-old [who] can consent to sexual intercourse; you have a 13-year-old [who] previously can consent to indecent assault, so the ages are all over the place.”

The DPP is seeking to have within the new mode criminal code, a set guideline for highlighting the different ages for different levels of criminal responsibility.

Grenada’s criminal code is among the oldest in the region dating back to 1890s, and in this respect, Nelson believes a total revamp of the legislation is long overdue. He highlighted other areas of the legislation which need attention.

“There are several areas in which it is deficient: in cases of sexual offences; the protection of children; the need to look at penalties that apply to various areas and, also there are other aspects, for instance, the protection of witnesses [and] the question of bail. There isn’t a proper bail act; we did look at a model bail act which would make the system work better. There are also other provisions that would make the criminal trial faster; for instance, a statutory basis for counsel; prosecution and defence agreeing on the tendering of certain evidence and easier ways of getting evidence into evidence, instead of having to call the experts — be it a doctor or pathologist — a report can be tendered into evidence if the legal foundation is there.”

Following a 2-day session held with legal practitioners from across the OECS in Grenada earlier this month, officials have taken some of the proposed recommendations on ways to harmonise the regional draft criminal code and are expected to include those recommendations within the final legislative framework for greater administrative justice by the Court of Appeal. This framework is then expected to be passed into law by governments of the OECS.

Regional Project Director IMPACT Justice Project, Professor Velma Newton said this process is quite lengthy and will require the setting up of committees to move the tasked forward. “We looked at a draft prepared some years ago, now the question is whether we will update that or prepare a new one, but whatever process we use, it is going to be a lengthy one, because before you can go to court you have to see what provisions are being used in each country, and you will have to make consequential amendments to other legislation.”

Meanwhile, there is another component to the IMPACT Justice Project — the launch of the Grenada Community Mediation Network on 19 February 2018, preceded by the drafting of a bill for community mediation. Adopted by the legal affairs committee of the CARICOM Secretariat, it is now being recommended for adoption by governments of the region.

The rationale behind the launch is to eliminate much of the minor disputes going to the court system that is already burdened by the backlog of cases.

Professor Newton said in this regard several hundred people across the region have been trained to conduct community mediation, 32 of whom were trained last year February in Grenada (9 females and 23 males) including police officers, teachers, and social workers.

She said efforts will also be made to continue training, with those wishing to receive advanced levels of mediation during the period March 2018 to March 2019. Newton highlighted the benefits of community mediators.

“The process used in community mediation is similar to that used in court, but access to community mediation is more convenient for the parties because the mediator would be in your district and the cost will be lower than to use the court mediation which may involve the use of an attorney at law.”

So far Grenada is the first to allow the mediators to use specific community centres across the island to conduct mediation, and has also agreed to furnish those centres.

Community centres identified are:

  • St Paul’s community centre, St George
  • Rose Hill community centre, St Patrick
  • Grenville community centre, St Andrew
  • St Paul’s community centre, Carriacou

Committee members making up the Grenada Community Mediation Network have also been identified: Sandra Coombs-Patterson, Chairperson; Noris Henry, Vice-Chairman; members Dexter Leggard, Christopher Stroude and Joan Charles.

Mediators will be responsible for dealing with some court matters including neighbourhood conflicts, juvenile conflicts, family disputes, landlord and tenant disputes, etc.

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