Drug rehab court begins

Tuesday, 9 October 2007, will go down in history as a significant date in Cayman’s social and juridical development. For most of the 46 defendants scheduled in court, the way they were dealt on Tuesday was not much different from the way they have been dealt with on previous occasions.

The big difference is that Tuesday was officially the first sitting of the Cayman Islands Drug Rehabilitation Court.

Six years of work went into the bill passed by the Legislative Assembly last year to establish the court and set out procedures for dealing with drug offenders.

Probation officers, counsellors, defence attorneys, Crown Counsel, police officers, social service providers and staff from the hospital laboratory met for months to prepare a Drug Rehab Court Operations Manual.

Offenders must apply to be accepted into the court programme. To be eligible, the must be apparently dependent on the use of drugs, but their offences cannot involve violence or drug trafficking for commercial gain. If accepted, they are referred to as clients.

The way the court operates is best illustrated by the way some cases were dealt with on Tuesday, when Magistrate Margaret Ramsay-Hale presided.

Another sitting of the Drug Rehab Court took place yesterday, with Magistrate Nova Hall presiding.

Before each sitting there was a pre-court meeting, confidential and not open to the public. Counsellors, probation officers and others referred to as treatment providers met to discuss the progress of each offender.

They then attended the court sitting, when the magistrate called on the individual defendants.

If they had not already applied to be accepted into the Drug Rehab court, they were asked if they wished to do so. Since the law requires that they understand the consequences of what they are applying for, Defence Attorney John Furniss was on hand as Duty Counsel to advise potential applicants if they did not have their own attorney.

Mr. Furniss began assisting defendants on 2 October, when Cabinet approved the commencement order for the Drug Rehabilitation Court Law. Other attorneys, including Marlene Smith, are also serving as Duty Counsel.

On Tuesday, one registered client – as the defendants are called when they enter the programme – was commended because his recent urine sample tested negative for drugs. The magistrate told him to continue meeting his drug counsellor once per week and attend his anger management sessions once per week. He was to return to court in a month’s time.

A formality of the Drug Rehab Court is that the attendance requirement and providing of a urine sample, previously conditions of the client’s bail, were made part of a court order, which he had to sign.

Another man whose urine test was negative told the magistrate he wanted to join the Drug Rehab Court. Although he had gone to the Caribbean Haven residential drug treatment programme in March and had been sober since, ‘I would like to be checking back every month or so.’

The magistrate agreed that the court should give him this support for a while longer.

A woman with a history of drug abuse and facing a charge of burglary was commended on how well she looked. She reported that she was working part-time and seeing her children on weekends.

The magistrate wanted a urine screen immediately because of previous problems. ‘We’re not stupid,’ she told the client. ‘We know exactly when you’ve doctored a sample or borrowed one.’

The woman left court to go to the hospital for the urine test and brought her receipt back to the court. She was directed to return the following day, when the magistrate would be advised of the test results.

One man told the magistrate he was having trouble paying compensation the court had ordered in one of his offences. He said he was working only part-time and couldn’t get anything else.

Jean Solomon from the Employment Relations Service was present as one of the court’s resources. She said the man should sign up at her office and she would match him with employers’ requests.

One man had his case of cocaine consumption and utensil possession finalised. His last urine test had been negative. The man had diabetes and the magistrate said he seemed to appreciate that his medical condition plus drug use could kill him. The Drug Rehab Court did not suit his situation and he was ordered to pay fines plus costs for the drug tests involved.

Drug Rehab Court co-ordinator Catherine Chesnut attended the sitting and an administrative assistant was on hand to record actions in each case. Senior Crown Counsel Gail Johnson represented the Legal Department.

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