July 29, 2021

The Editor Speaks: Courthouse MUST not be left in limbo

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A new courthouse is not going to happen anytime soon. Maybe not during this administration.

At the moment there is not even an interim solution to the problem that has plagued the judiciary for years – not enough room.

This shocking development was announced by the Chief Justice in his speech at the Opening of The Grand Court of the Cayman Islands.

This is what he said about it:

“I will not follow the usual format this year of discussion in detail of the statistics on case disposal. Given the prevailing circumstances which I will describe in more detail below about the Court Building project, such a report it seems to me, would be an exercise in futility. It is pointless discussing matters such as the rate of case disposal for the sake of reassuring the public that we can deliver justice in a timely fashion, while knowing that there are no plans in place which will allow us to continue to do so.

“Instead, I will make the focus of my report this year once more about the need for the facilities. Neither the Government nor the public should be in any doubt what the consequences will be if we continue to fail to provide adequate court facilities.

“For nearly three decades successive governments have accepted the need for improved court facilities and expressed commitment to providing them. For at least half of that time, over the last 15 years, successive governments have budgeted in one way or another for the development of a new Court House. And significant sums have been spent, upwards of a million dollars, for the presentation of the formal business case, the preparation of architectural and engineering drawings, site acquisition and planning approval.

“This budget year has seen a startling change of course. With the Government committed to some $300 million for capital expenditure over the next two years, none of that has been allocated to the Courts.

“On the contrary, a sum of $4 million requested in our budget for land acquisition for the location of a building was removed without any explanation being offered. In light of the exorbitant sums estimated by PWC as the cost of any of the three proposals identified by them in 2016, our intention was to propose the development of the 2008 design on a site to be acquired within the environs of George Town. In a final bid to ensure that such a project might be progressed over the next two years, the Court Administrator wrote at my request to the Minister of Finance as chairman of the Finance Committee, asking that the position may be reserved when the budget was being debated in November last. The letter also set out the background history of the project and once more emphasized the urgent need for the building. Despite the fact that a copy of this important letter was also sent to the Hon. Premier for Cabinet’s consideration, no response has been received and no reservation to the budget was made as requested, in order to allow the matter to return to Finance Committee over the next two years.

“This new and sudden demonstration of indifference by Government can at best be seen as a failure to understand the true nature of the difficulties confronting the Administration, as we struggle from year to year to ensure that people receive timely justice.

“After being assured for many years that the Government understands the needs and was committed to addressing them, I find myself now having to make the case once more for the benefit of Government and the public.

“The present situation betrays a lack of vision. Apart from the ramifications for the delivery of justice to our local public to which I will return below, the present situation suggests a lamentable lack of appreciation for the importance to Cayman of the Courts ability to resolve, in a timely manner, the hundreds of complex international cases coming before our FSD each year.

“Modern court rooms capable of accommodating complex trials are now standard facilities in many of our competing jurisdictions. There are anecdotal accounts of professionals who appear here as well as in Singapore, Hong Kong, New York and London expressing disbelief at the state of our court facilities by comparison to those available in these competing jurisdictions. They fairly describe our court facilities as “shabby, cramped and wholly inadequate”.

“We must not fail to appreciate that the judiciary and the courts are pivotal for our system of justice and are crucial to the international reputation of the Islands. A main reason why people chose to do business within the Islands is its judicial system’s reputation for independence, integrity, incorruptibility and yes, efficiency as well. When hundreds of millions or even billions of dollars worth of assets are at stake, inefficiency and its resultant delay become intolerable.

“Without in the slightest overstating the position, that is exactly the outcome soon to become the norm, unless the current attitude of governmental neglect is reversed.”

The Chief Justice read out a letter that was submitted via the Attorney General to the Finance Minister Roy McTaggart that has to date received no reply.

The full text of the Chief Justice Smellie’s speech and a copy of the letter submitted to the Finance Minister can be found in today’s iNews Cayman under the heading, “The Chief Justice’s Report to the opening of the Cayman Islands Grand Court, 17th January 2018”.

Speaking on Cayman27 Premier Hon. Alden McLaughlin said a new courthouse will not happen anytime soon.

“There is no lack of commitment on the part of myself or the government to addressing the shortage of space in respect to courtrooms, but quite frankly the country can not afford at this stage $177 million new court facility,” he added.

He said the government have been trying to reach a compromise on the issue for the last 3 years.

“Trying to get to a place where we can start work on an affordable facility and we simply have failed to come to any reasonable agreement,” said Mr. McLaughlin. “I do hope though that the course of the next few months that we can reach some agreement on the way forward.”

Attorney General Samuel Bulgin has echoed the Chief Justice’s warnings.

“The court administration can no longer assure the Cayman public of being able to meet its constitutional obligations for the delivery of timely justice under the current conditions,” he said
I am astonished the Premier used the word “HOPE”. The word used should have been “MUST!”

Since writing the above I received a copy of The premier’s address today to the Cayman Islands Chamber of Commerce. He included this reference concerning a new court building and the Chief Justice’s remarks:

“Updated or new court facilities are also being considered and, like the headquarters, have been under consideration for more than a decade.

“The in his remarks at the opening of the Grand Court yesterday reflected on how long this is taking, and in fact took Government to task for not providing capital funding in the current budget for a new court facility. I have to say I agree with him that this is a pressing issue – just as is the new RCIPS headquarters.

“But where I differ with him fundamentally is that Government found it difficult to agree to a request to allocate a sum as large as $4 million to purchase land for a new court facility when, despite the many attempts, there are no agreed plans for any such facility; where there is no specific property being considered; and in an instance where Government already owns acres of crown land that can be used for a new modern court facility.

“Contrary to the Chief Justice’s assertion, there is no lack of vision on Government’s part. Instead there is a keen sense of fiscal responsibility and the recognition that at this point the Cayman Islands Government simply cannot afford to spend between $150 million and $177 million on a court facility.

“While we fully acknowledge the urgent need for additional modern court facilities, the price tag will have to be substantially less than what has been proposed.

“In Government, as in business, one must make choices and at times that means not everyone will be happy. I will note, however, that this Government did allocate $845,000 in the current budget to take the court house project forward. This money essentially serves as a placeholder – allowing Government and the Chief Justice to come to a reasonable compromise on a location, a structure that is fit for purpose and, importantly, one that the country can afford.”

That might seem reasonable if it wasn’t for the amount of one million dollars being spent on a case study executed by PWC. A Ford should have been the target and not a Rolls Royce.

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