Courts face many changes

In 2007, there were 1,404 criminal cases filed in the Summary Courts. Traffic charges reached a record high of 10,605.

In Grand Court, 112 new criminal indictments were filed, the largest number ever in a single year.

Civil cases increased in Summary Court by 16 per cent, from 407 in 2006 to 484. In Grand Court, the increase was 22 per cent, from 815 to 1,038.

Chief Justice Anthony Smellie shared these statistics at the opening of Grand Court on Wednesday and announced steps being taken to deal with the challenges those numbers represent.

Steps include the appointment of a Chief Magistrate and a fourth Grand Court judge, the establishment of a commercial division of Grand Court, and a timetable for construction of the long-awaited second Courts Building to provide additional court rooms and space for support staff.

The Chief Justice said that after consultation with the Governor, Mr. Stuart Jack, it was decided that Magistrate Margaret Ramsay-Hale would be appointed Chief Magistrate, effective immediately.

Mrs. Ramsay-Hale has served as magistrate in Cayman since 1998. She presides in the various Summary Courts, including Traffic, Maintenance and the new Drug Rehabilitation Court, along with Magistrates Grace Donalds and Nova Hall.

The Chief Justice said the position of Chief Magistrate was necessary because of increasing demands on the court and because the Summary Courts will have a ‘somewhat more autonomous existence at the new site’ of the Courts Building to be built in the Half-Way Pond area of George Town, between Smith Road and Lyndhurst Road (across from Jose’s gas station).

‘The Chief Magistrate will be given direct responsibility for supervision of the administration of that Court and for the development of policy in consultation with the other magistrates and the Chief Justice,’ he explained.

Ground breaking for the new building is expected to take place in June this year, with completion in 12 to 18 months, he said.

A committee headed by Justice Alex Henderson has been involved in developing design criteria since early 2007 and the Central Tenders Committee awarded the architectural contract in the latter part of the year. The Chief Justice expected construction contracts to be awarded before the ground-breaking.

The fourth Grand Court judge was not named, but the Chief Justice said the intention was to secure the appointment by the end of March.

A subcommittee of some of the more experienced commercial practitioners has prepared draft rules for the establishment of what will be called the Financial Services Division of the Grand Court. The Chief Justice said he would convene a meeting of the Rules Committee to consider them as soon as possible.

He also reported on progress with alternative sentencing. Electronic monitoring of offenders is an important innovation that will allow courts to make non-custodial orders in many cases where prison would otherwise be unavoidable. Some of the people responsible for the monitoring have already been engaged and a contract for technical support and equipment will be awarded by the end of the month.

A task force has been convened to ‘find ways to reach out to and include the wider community in the various initiatives for the rehabilitation of offenders,’ the Chief Justice said. Churches, service clubs and individuals have declared their willingness to be involved in rehabilitative programmes: they should soon be hearing abut specific ways in which they can participate.

Legal aid was another subject of continuing concern. The Chief Justice said he had received the Law Reform Commission’s draft review of the legal aid system and would respond with recommendations within a few days.

He closed by thanking all the officers of the Courts for their dedication in support of the administration of justice. He encouraged them to remain committed to providing the services ‘which are so fundamentally important to the people and to the continued stability of our community.’

He thanked attorneys for their indispensable services provided in the interests of justice and members of the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service ‘who remain at the vanguard of our national security.’