November 30, 2021

The Editor Speaks: Do we really need a new courthouse?

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I was under the impression we most definitely do.

It has been a case of ‘soon come’ that means ‘no time soon’.

Chief Justice Anthony Smellie has long advocated the need for a new courthouse. Back in 2013 when the Chief Justice gave his Grand Court Opening Address he said:

MR CROWLEY REMARKED ON THE NEED FOR THE NEW COURT HOUSE, THE SUBJECT TO WHICH I NOW TURN.

PLANS WHICH WERE IN AN ADVANCED STAGE WERE SHELVED IN THE LATTER PART OF 2008 WHEN THE GLOBAL FINANCIAL CRISIS REACHED OUR SHORES. SINCE THEN THE PROJECT HAS BEEN RECOGNISED AS A PRIORITY IN EACH THRONE SPEECH IN ANTICIPATION OF THE GOVERNMENT BEING ABLE TO RAISE THE NECESSARY FUNDING.

IN THE MEANTIME, THE NEED FOR MORE COURT ROOMS, CHAMBERS AND ADMINISTRATIVE OFFICES HAS BECOME EVEN MORE URGENT, NOTWITHSTANDING THE EXPANSION OF THE OPERATIONS ACROSS THE ROAD AT KIRK HOUSE. A MAIN REASON FOR THIS IS THE UNSUITABILITY OF KIRK HOUSE FOR THE CONDUCT OF SERIOUS CRIMINAL TRIALS, GIVEN THE CONCERNS ABOUT SECURITY THAT ATTEND SUCH TRIALS.

AS YOU WILL HEAR IN A BIT MORE DETAIL LATER ON, THE INCREASING CRIMINAL CASELOAD REQUIRES THAT WE CONDUCT AT LEAST TWO, IDEALLY THREE GRAND COURT TRIALS EACH DAY, IF WE ARE TO AVOID UNACCEPTABLE DELAY IN THE DISPOSAL OF CASES. THE NEED FOR A FOURTH MAGISTRATE HAS ALSO BEEN RECOGNISED BUT MAY NOT BE ADDRESSED FOR LACK OF COURT ROOM AND CHAMBERS.

WE STILL HAVE ONLY TWO COURT ROOMS WITH SECURED ACCESS TO CELLS AND DOCKS DESIGNED FOR THE CONDUCT OF SERIOUS CRIMINAL TRIALS. YET, WHEN WE INCLUDE THE CURRENT NEEDS OF THE THREE SUMMARY COURTS WHICH, LIKE THE GRAND COURT CRIMINAL DIVISION MUST SIT MONDAY TO FRIDAY, THE PRESENT NEED IS FOR AT LEAST SIX COURT ROOMS, AND SEVEN WHEN THE COURT OF APPEAL IS IN SESSION.

THE MODERN STANDARDS OF ADMINISTRATION OF JUSTICE ALSO REQUIRE THAT THE DIFFERENT NEEDS, NOT ONLY OF ALLEGED OFFENDERS, BUT ALSO OF JURORS, WITNESSES, VICTIMS OF OFFENCES, CHILDREN AND INDEED THEIR FAMILIES ATTENDING COURT, MUST BE MET. INDEED, IN RECOGNITION OF THIS, THE PLANS FOR THE NEW COURT BUILDING INCLUDE A SEGREGATED WING SPECIALLY DESIGNED FOR THE CONDUCT OF FAMILY AND CHILDREN CASES.

THIS COURT HOUSE WAS BUILT MORE THAN FORTY YEARS AGO WHEN THE VOLUME AND COMPLEXITY OF CASES NOW COMING BEFORE THE COURTS COULD NOT HAVE BEEN ANTICIPATED. IN THIS CONTEXT, THE INCREASED DEMANDS PLACED UPON THE ADMINISTRATION OF JUSTICE BY THE INTERNATIONAL FINANCIAL AND COMMERCIAL CASES MUST ALSO BE EMPHASISED. THESE CASES ARE OFTEN MONITORED BY THE FINANCIAL MEDIA AND THEIR OUTCOME CAN BE VERY CONSEQUENTIAL, NOT ONLY TO THE IMMEDIATE PARTIES, BUT SOMETIMES TO THE FINANCIAL MARKETS AS WELL. IT IS IMPORTANT THAT WE APPRECIATE THAT THEIR TIMELY AND EFFECTIVE DISPOSTION BY OUR COURTS WILL THEREFORE BE ESSENTIAL TO MAINTAINING CAYMAN’S REPUTATION AS A MAJOR FINANCIAL CENTRE.

FOR REASONS SUCH AS THESE, IT FOLLOWS THAT INVESTMENT IN THE INFRASTRUCTURE OF THE COURTS, IS AS IMPORTANT AS INVESTMENT IN ANY OTHER FUNCTION OF GOVERNMENT.

SO HERE TOO I TAKE THE OPPORTUNITY TO REMIND OUR COLLEAGUES IN GOVERNMENT THAT IT IS VERY IMPORTANT THAT PROGRESS IS MADE THIS YEAR. JUSTICE HENDERSON (WHO HELPED WITH OVERSIGHT OF THE DESIGN STAGE), THE COURT ADMINISTRATOR AND I, ARE AVAILABLE TO DISCUSS THE WAY FORWARD.

It didn’t happen. However this year The Chief Justice seemed optimistic it was going to happen and Premier Alden McLaughlin said last week in the Legislative Assembly;

“Another focus will be plans to build a much-needed new courthouse. I hope that by the time we present the budget I will be able to say more on this. But we will be budgeting funds to ensure that
the necessary preliminary work can be started.”

Local lawyer Peter Polack has sent me an email saying:

This is not required, needed or pressing.

This congestion has been caused by the following:

1. The AG decides to remove the preliminary Inquiry for many offences without attendant increase in resources for the courts, prosecution or police. There was a massive and sudden avalanche of cases to the Grand Court which struggles with the enhanced case load. Solution: like the roll back on the environment, reintroduce the preliminary inquiry which also has the effect of dismissing borderline or weak cases that tie up the court system. At a minimum the preliminary review of cases by more magistrates will be less costly overall than construction of a new court house and employment of more Grand Court judges. It would also immediately reduce the number of inmates on remand and pressure on HMP Northward.

2. The matter of over-prosecution, acknowledged by the present Commissioner and the failure to decriminalize minor or archaic offences.

Courts idle despite bottleneck of criminal cases

PI removal questioned by lawyer

I understand Polack has sent this email to the Premier. I haven’t heard if he has had a reply.

However, I will be very interested in The Chief Justice’s views on this.

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