December 5, 2020

New Chief Magistrate marks opening

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Police parade at the courthouse to mark the opening of the legal year.

Marking the opening of the new judicial year, Chief Justice Anthony Smellie yesterday appointed Nova Hall as Chief Magistrate, replacing the departed Margaret Ramsay-Hale.

In a speech from the bench celebrating the start of the 2012 judicial year, the Chef Justice announced the elevation of Ms Hall, going on to say that the Judicial Administration would create at the Kirk House court building a Legal Aid Clinic, managing applications from the public and training young Caymanian lawyers

At the same time, he announced Grand Court Justice Angus Foster would convene a committee next Thursday to develop court procedures for the financial-services division, while newly appointed Justice Richard Williams would chair another group advising on creation of a specialist Family Court.

Additionally, he said, 1 February would mark the launch of the administration’s new website, which will include the Cayman Islands Law Reports, possibly re-instating in May earlier judgements, removed pending reviews of potentially sensitive verdicts in family cases.

Finally, the judiciary hoped to introduce by the late June a facility to file cases electronically, and enable the RCIP to write — and the courts to collect — traffic tickets online.

Announcing the appointment of Ms Hall, Mr Smellie said “I look forward to working with her “, and said the recent appointments of Kirsty-Ann Gunn as Magistrate in late April, and Eileen Nervik as interim Acting Magistrate, would help relieve a growing “volume of casework that is
especially burdensome ”.

Lamenting the 298 days it took the Summary Court to dispose of more than 1,300 cases in 2011, Mr Smellie said having “only two magistrates and a lack of courtrooms contributed to the problem.

“Rigorous case management” would help alleviate the pressure, he said, vowing to appoint a Case Progression Manager for both the Summary and Grand courts

Four full-time magistrates were, however, necessary to deal with the load, Mr Smellie said, and while not saying if another appointment was imminent, left the door open.

With a limited number of Grand Court justices, “10 judicial officers and only six courtrooms available, and as trials can occupy one room for days or even weeks”, he said, “the need is clear and justified” for a new courthouse, especially with “the exponential increase in government business.”

Newly appointed Chief Magistrate Nova Hall with Magistrate Valdis Foldats

A new facility, mandated in 2009 at the junction of Lyndhurst Avenue and Agnes Way, was shelved in the face of declining budgets, Mr Smellie said, warning, however, that space constraints could jeopardise “fair and timely trials”, damaging Cayman’s international reputation as a “fine place to live and to conduct business”.

Accordingly, he said, he would “seek again” to gain funding for the new courthouse.

In other remarks, Attorney General Sam Bulgin also addressed the packed courtroom, saying 2011 “had been a difficult year for the Cayman Islands” both economically and in matters of criminal activity.

The RCIP, led by Commissioner David Baines, “rose to the occasion to restore order”, Mr Bulgin said.

He called on witnesses to come forward in criminal cases, saying he was trying to improve Cayman’s witness protection programnme, a longstanding local issue.

Finally, Law Society President Charles Jennings, reviewing the group’s 2011 work, said his group was surveying opinion about wearing wigs, gowns and robes in court.

”While many support it, there is some significant opposition to it,” he told the Chief Justice.

”Why change history?” Mr Smellie replied. “I approve of them, and they make you look more dignified and more noticeable.”

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