The Legislative Assembly has passed a bill that provides for the establishment of a Drug Court.
The Drug Court Law will give the Courts discretion to deal with certain drug offences through rehabilitation rather than imprisonment.
Attorney General Sam Bulgin presented the bill and spoke of the reasons for the new law.
‘There is deep concern at the growing number of offenders who have a drug addiction problem,’ Mr. Bulgin said. ‘It has been noted that young persons who are addicted to drugs are not persons who can be motivated to pursue further education or careers.
‘In addition, it is now recognised that many offenders commit crimes because of their addiction to drugs – in order to fund the addiction.’
Drug offenders in the courts do not usually get imprisoned for a first offence.
‘Indeed, it is recognised that even when the offender has multiple convictions for such offences, prison is not the appropriate place for him,’ Mr. Bulgin said.
It is believed the Drug Court could reduce the incidence of drug use and drug addiction by persons whose criminal activities are linked to drug dependence.
Mr. Bulgin said the Drug Court could also reduce the level of crime resulting from drug use and provide rehabilitation to users to enable them to function as law-abiding citizens.
Before someone could appear before the Drug Court, he or she would first have to undergo an assessment to determine their suitability in a prescribed treatment programme, Mr. Bulgin said. The subject would also have to consent to having the case heard in the Drug Court.
‘If the offender’s consent is withheld, then the offence charged would be determined by a regular court, in the normal manner.’
Under the legislation, the Chief Justice could declare any sitting of Summary Court or Grand Court to be a Drug Court. However, if it were in a sitting of the Grand Court, it would be presided over by a judge without a jury, Mr. Bulgin said.
The treatment programmes proscribed by the Drug Court would include education programmes, group counselling sessions and one-to-one sessions between the offender and the treatment provider.
Mr. Bulgin said the Drug Court would be empowered to impose sanctions upon an offender who fails to maintain a satisfactory level of compliance with the programme.
‘The Drug Court would also be empowered to require the offender to make financial contribution towards the cost of his programme,’ Mr. Bulgin added.
The duration of the programme would vary in length according to the needs of the offender, and the relevant criminal charge would be kept in abeyance for the duration of the programme.
‘An offender who successfully completes his treatment, would be granted an absolute or a conditional discharge,’ Mr. Bulgin said.
However, the Drug Court will also be empowered to terminate a treatment programme under specified circumstances, such as if the offender requests its termination or if the Court believes there is no useful purpose for the offender continuing the programme.
When interviewed recently about the Drug Court, Chief Justice Anthony Smellie noted that some regression could be expected with participants, since that sort of behaviour is typical of people addicted to drugs.
However, the Drug Court will continue to work with a person as along as they are willing to demonstrate an appreciable degree of commitment to the programme, Justice. Smellie said.
Mr. Bulgin noted that the Human Rights Committee had expressed some concerns about the Drug Court with regard to the suspension of the rules of evidence and the offenders’ lack of the right of appeal.
‘There’s a clause in the bill… which states the procedures in the Drug Court are to be conducted with as little formality or technicality as possible.’
Mr. Bulgin referred to comments made by Justice Smellie to the Caymanian Compass about the proposed Drug Court. He noted that Justice Smellie had envisioned the Drug Court along the lines of a round-table discussion.
‘The atmosphere is the Court is geared at providing an informal setting in order to allow a free exchange of ideas to help these persons,’ he said.
Regardless, Mr. Bulgin said the law does not state the rules of evidence would not be followed, only that if there was a failure to follow them, the proceedings would not be nullified.
There is nothing, therefore, that contravenes any human rights conventions in the law, Mr. Bulgin said.
Another concern of the Human Rights Committee was that Drug Court Bill allowed offenders no right of appeal.
Mr. Bulgin pointed out that someone in the Drug Court first had to be eligible and that he or she would then have to consent having their case heard in Drug Court.
‘Additionally, by the time they reached this stage for consideration [in Drug Court], the person would have already either pleaded guilty… or have been convicted and agreed to a proscribed course of treatment instead of the usual sentencing,’ he said.
In either case, the person would have lost the right of appeal.
Mr. Bulgin said the goal of the Drug Court was to reduce the harm people cause themselves and others because of their drug use.
‘It is not meant to be a usual courtroom atmosphere where all the formalities associated with an adversarial trial process have to be observed to the letter,’ he said. ‘If that were so, there would be no need to disclose a particular sitting as a Drug Court.’
If any offender in the Drug Court has a problem with the process, they can simply opt out of the programme at any time and return to the regular court with all the trappings of a criminal trial, Mr. Bulgin said.
‘In which case, it would be business as usual for the defendant and his counsel, as well as for the Crown.’