In response to a backlog of warrants and witness summons in the Cayman Islands court system, Police Commissioner Stuart Kernohan has suggested hiring civilian employees to help cut through the paperwork.
Officers with the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service are required to deliver both types of court summons. Last month the Caymanian Compass reported that thousands had not been served.
RCIPS has increased efforts to reduce the backlog. By late March, the number still to be served had fallen to about 350 witness summons and 860 outstanding arrest warrants.
The warrants are generally for minor or non-violent offences such as speeding tickets or burglary charges.
Commissioner Kernohan said under no circumstances would anyone other than a police officer be allowed to deliver warrants.
Witness summons may be a different story.
Those are delivered to people who need to provide testimony in court on a specific case so they’ll know when and where to show up.
At least two cases which came before Acting Magistrate Valdis Foldats last month had to be delayed because of no-show witnesses. RCIPS accepted responsibility for the delays.
However, questions were raised at the time about whether police officers should be diverted from other duties to personally serve witness summons.
‘One of the areas that we’re looking at is the potential civilianisation of that process,’ Mr. Kernohan said. ‘In my experience from the UK…civilians are specifically employed as process servers. They go around on small CC mopeds…and that’s all they do during the day is go around serving these witness summons.’
According to the Cayman Islands Human Rights Committee, delayed court proceedings due to no-show witnesses can lead to a breach of a person’s right to liberty if the situation causes ‘an unreasonable delay in the trial process.’
However, the committee said each case would have to be reviewed independently to determine whether that occurred.
At the ceremonial opening of the Grand Court in January, Chief Justice Anthony Smellie expressed a general concern about the timely handling of criminal cases.
In an interview with the Compass at the UK Overseas Territories Attorneys General Conference in February, Mr. Smellie said part of the problem with the court summons is communication.
First, he said the Attorney General must request the summons; then the courts issue them, and finally the police serve them.
‘Sometimes we’ve not had a firm understanding of the process,’ Mr. Smellie said. ‘We need to better coordinate our efforts, but it’s a problem we can solve.’
Attorney General Samuel Bulgin said he had meetings as early as 2005 with the police about the witness summons issue, and said he believed at that time it had been resolved.
‘Some of the difficulties are people give a home address instead of a work address,’ Mr. Bulgin said. ‘We should be able to find people. I don’t think it’s a crisis, but any delay is unacceptable.’
Mr. Bulgin also said he thought someone involved in the court process, like a police officer or a bailiff, should continue to deliver witness summons.