Ceremonial opening of Grand Court gives opportunity to review events of 2012, reveal plans for 2013
Seven judges, three magistrates and regular visits by the Court of Appeal cannot be efficiently accommodated in existing court facilities, attorneys and guests heard at the ceremonial opening of Grand Court on Wednesday in Grand Cayman.
There was no disagreement with Cayman Islands Chief Justice Anthony Smellie’s assessment of the situation: the benchmark for disposing of criminal cases is 180 days, but the average in Cayman is 303 days. “The only solution is to conduct three trials at once if we are not to be in breach of the constitutional mandate for timely trials,” he said, referring to the Bill of Rights, which came into effect in November.
One problem is that there are only six courtrooms and only two of those have secured access to the cells and docks, he pointed out. Three courtrooms are in Kirk House, across the street from the Law Courts Building, but they are not suitable for criminal trials because of security concerns.
In addition, a fourth magistrate is needed, the chief justice said. Also to be considered are the needs of the alleged offenders, jurors, victims and families. He noted plans for a new courthouse drawn some years ago had a separate wing for family and children’s cases. Those plans were shelved in the latter part of 2008 when the global financial crisis hit.
That audience included Governor Duncan Taylor, Speaker of the House Mary Lawrence, Deputy Governor Franz Manderson, Leader of the Opposition Alden McLaughlin, as well as MLAs Ezzard Miller and Arden McLean. Attorneys, former members of the judiciary and court staff filled most of the remaining chairs.
Before the speeches, there was a ceremony outside that included inspection of and royal salute by a police guard of honour formed under Parade Commander Lloyd Marriott. Once inside, Attorney General Samuel Bulgin formally moved the motion for the opening of the Grand Court for 2013, summarising events of the past year and plans for 2013.
The usual procedure is that, after he spoke, representatives of the Cayman Islands Law Society and Caymanian Bar Association would second the motion and make their remarks. On Mr. Bulgin’s recommendation, however, the chief justice called on attorney Ian Paget-Brown, chairman of the Law Reform Commission.
He reported progress of various projects being worked on, including a matrimonial causes bill, the duties of company directors, enforcement of foreign judgments and a sexual harassment bill. Most of his remarks, however, were about the Legal Practitioners Bill, which has been under discussion since at least 2006 and which was meant to deal with a code of conduct for attorneys and the issue of eligibility of persons to practise law in the Cayman Islands.
Mr. Paget-Brown said the commission was recommending that rules of conduct be set by a Bar Council and be based on the American Bar Association’s model rules of professional conduct. Since there were opposing views on practising certificates for overseas attorneys advising on Cayman law, the recommendation was that this issue be taken out of the law and be dealt with by way of regulation. The major concern addressed by the draft Qualified Firm Overseas Practice Regulations was the impact on Caymanian attorneys and the jurisdiction as a whole.
Attorney Alistair Robertson, who succeeded Charles Jennings as president of the Law Society, cited the achievements of Caymanian attorneys and noted that major law firms had set out a commitment paper last year to the then-premier regarding the development of Caymanian attorneys. “We need to be constructive and go forward,” he said.
Attorney Dale Crowley, president of the Cayman Islands Bar Association, said the group represented the interests of more than 140 Caymanian attorneys and 75 honorary student members.
He observed that hundreds of hours have been spent seeking implementation of a modernised Legal Practitioners Law in line with international standards.
“The association has always strived to achieve a balanced law, which enables local firms to compete successfully on a global basis, but which provides for the proper regulation and discipline of the profession within and outside of the Cayman islands, and afford suitable protection for the recruitment, training, development and progression of Caymanians within it,” he said.
Mr. Crowley was the first speaker to comment on court facilities, pointing out that they have been inadequate for some time in terms of servicing “the ever increasing case loads and the complex and lengthy civil litigation being brought before the courts on an increasingly frequent basis.”
Other points raised by Mr. Bulgin in his opening remarks included a suggestion that members of the media form a press association.
He applauded the efforts of Court Administrator Kevin McCormac who established a working group to improve the efficiency of the criminal justice system. Partner agencies include the Defence Bar, police, prison, Department of Public Prosecutions, Departments of Counselling and of Children and Family Services. Group aims include reducing the time between detection of an offence and completion of court proceedings; and improving the experience of jurors, witnesses and victims.
“The only solution is to conduct three trials at once if we are not to be in breach of the constitutional mandate for timely trials.” ANTHONY SMELLIE, chief justice