Editorial for 12 August: On JPs, expertise, and the issuance of warrants

A recurring issue with the issuance of warrants should be of concern to those charged with administering justice in our country.

Based on an open records request seeking search warrant applications to local justices of the peace over the past three years, an applicant tried to determine how many of those warrants had been turned down and how many had been approved. The applicant also sought to determine how many warrants that went before a court were approved or denied between mid-2010 and mid-2013. 

The Royal Cayman Islands Police Service’s response indicated that it was considered a waste of resources to pursue such information, even if it could possibly be found in 8,000-plus criminal case files handled by the police service over the three-year period.

We’re not seeking to blame the police for wanting to spend limited resources fighting crime rather than looking up paperwork. However, the response received by the open records applicant reveals a lack of transparency with regard to one of the most important matters facing the country – criminal justice. 

There appears to be a lack of accountability regarding the application for criminal warrants made by police officers to justices of the peace. We realise that Police Commissioner David Baines recently acknowledged there were slack procedures in that regard and vowed that all such warrants should be sought during business hours when possible and should be taken to a court, rather than a justice of the peace.   

What really needs reviewing is not police procedure, but the justice system allowing warrants that – at least temporarily – take away someone’s right to privacy and even liberty. Simply put, warrants should not be signed by anyone with little or no legal training.  

The solution is not “more training for justices of the peace”, as keeps being suggested in certain circles. Unless the Cayman Islands government is willing to pay for each justice of the peace to get a criminal law degree – a most unlikely occurrence – the current system is inherently flawed. 

Allowing untrained JPs to continue to sign these warrants, particularly with the advent of the bill of rights in Cayman’s 2009 Constitution Order, creates legal holes in the potential prosecution of cases that any competent criminal defence attorney will exploit. 

Going forward, we would like government to consider that only JPs with legal training be allowed to consider criminal search or arrest warrant applications by police. Even more preferable would be to have every application taken before a court of law for consideration and deliberation. 

We believe an enhanced system would be supported by local taxpayers who have every interest in seeing that justice is served credibly, fairly and swiftly in these islands.