by Curlan Campbell, NOW Grenada
- 2nd floor of the Clico Building retrofitted for civil courts
- backlog of cases pending in the court
- Use of the Clico building is interim measure until Hall of Justice built
Government has moved to acquire the 2nd floor of the Clico Building on Young Street, St George’s, and is retrofitting the space to accommodate 2 civil courts and court reporting unit.
Minister for Legal Affairs Kindra Mathurine-Stewart told journalists on Wednesday, 24 April during the weekly post-cabinet briefing, that the contractor is working around the clock to ensure that space is ready in the shortest possible time. At the same time, the government is looking to secure the 3rd floor of the building currently occupied by the remaining staff of Clico in order to house 2 criminal courts.
“With respect to the 3rd floor, it is anticipated that government will be in possession of the same within the next week or so. Arrangements are presently being finalised to secure alternative accommodation for the remaining Staff of Clico… and so very soon within the next week or so, work will commence on the 3rd floor with a same sense of urgency,” said Minister Mathurine-Stewart.
This move by the government follows the near shutdown of criminal and civil high courts in Grenada in May 2018 which prompted the Grenada Bar Association to stage a protest in January 2019 lamenting their frustration over the slow pace of government in dealing with ongoing challenges within the judicial system.
In February, attorney-at-law Derek Sylvester, expressed the view that an important constitutional provision is being violated, which if left unchecked, can evolve into a constitutional fiasco. The practicing attorney was referring to the delay of justice for those criminally charged in the court, whose rights are being infringed upon due to the current lack of judges and the present state of the nation’s judicial system which is still without proper facilities.
“There is a constitutional provision which states that every person charged with a criminal offense must be tried within a fair and reasonable time by a fair and partial tribunal established by law, section 8 that is being violated by all the [people] awaiting to be tried in Her Majesty’s Prison. Whereas of today there were 438 male inmates and 3 females,” said Sylvester.
Sylvester laments that only a fraction of civil and criminal cases are being dealt with leaving a backlog of cases pending in the court. “We need more than one criminal judge. One criminal trial lasted for almost 2 weeks, that’s the Joshua Okoronkwo trial and if you have a murder trial with more than one accused person, that can go on to 6 weeks or 2 months; and with almost 200 matters pending in the court you can understand the problem we will have.”
With regard to the civil jurisdiction, Sylvester said there is an even bigger problem brewing.
“To the civil jurisdiction of the court approximately 600 plus matters are filed every year and the percentage that is being disposed of is maybe 10% — give or take 15% — and you have only one sometimes two judges sitting.”
Speaking in his personal capacity, the attorney stated that no communication was received by him on the status of the Clico building on Young Street, St George’s which, according to the government will be leased to house a number of courts. “As far as I am aware I have received no communication that any new, used or alternative building has been secured for the resident judges to work.”
Minster Mathurine-Stewart reiterated that the use of the Clico building is just an interim measure until Grenada can finally have its own Hall of Justice.
The minister said the subcommittee is presently aggressively looking at the construction of Grenada’s Hall of Justice, has reviewed several existing and new draft plans for the building and will soon be engaging the Grenada Bar Association and the public before going to cabinet.
“The committee continues to meet on a regular basis and so far we have reviewed some of the existing proposals, we have also looked at new ones, some of the drawings, the designs and of course possible location for our Hall of Justice; so very soon we will be engaging all the stakeholders that would mean the Grenada Bar Association and of course the general public before taking those proposals to cabinet for approval and for further recommendation.”
The legal system is also plagued with other challenges specifically with regards to the condition at the Supreme Court Registry. At present, the decayed condition of the ledgers, including the permanent loss of records and understaffing issues are yet to be addressed. Lawyers have also complained of the understaffed court transcription office which severely affects obtaining written transcripts required to facilitate appeals of both criminal and civil matters.
The Legal Affairs minister said plans are in place to address this problem. “Considerations are being given to have 2 additional courts, 1 civil and 1 criminal court to just deal with the backlog that we’ve had because of the closure of some of our courts; and in fact, we are looking to have a total of 6 courts operating in Grenada. Considerations are being given to have a resident master here in Grenada rather than one who visits once per month for a week. We believe that this will play a crucial role in resolving pending case management matters and interim and other applications that are pending before the court”.
Cabinet has also approved the appointment of 2 judicial research assistants to assist judges by request of Chief Justice Dame Janice M Pereira. These judicial research assistants will work closely with judges and will be responsible for conducting legal research, case briefing, reviewing legal documents, preparing drafts for the review for judges. Cabinet has also appointed a transcriptionist to support the court reporting unit in reducing backlogged of Appeal matters. As of next month the government will appoint an acting registrar at the Deeds and Lands Registry who will be responsible for the continuation of the modernisation of the Land Registry. Staff will also be trained in the processing of deeds and a procedural manual developed to help guide staff in processing of deeds.