Response to crime and courts editorial

In your recent, important, editorial (Thursday, Oct. 3) on the growing cost of serious crime, you identify a number of concerns.

Amongst them, you refer to excessive delays and appeals, and to inadequate sentencing. In fact, the decisions of Cayman Courts have a remarkably low number of appeals whether by the prosecution or the defence (a combined average of 20 or so yearly) when compared to the number of indictments each year in the Grand Court (more than 120) and criminal charges each year in the Summary Courts (more than 1,200).

Only a small number of appeals are successful. Those that succeed often attract a lot of attention but they are not typical. Deciding sentence can be very complex and, in the most difficult cases, courts are often given far more information than can be reported; a relatively new and important part of the process is the opportunity that victims have to provide a statement to the court describing the impact of the crime on them which helps to ensure that there is a very clear picture of the harm that has been done.

There are sound principles of sentencing deeply rooted in English and Commonwealth law which are applied by the judges and magistrates. These are supported by an extensive range of sentencing guidelines from the England and Wales Sentencing Council and by local guidelines issued by the Chief Justice all of which are carefully considered and applied by judges and magistrates at every level in a way that reflects our culture and situation and suits local circumstances.

The low rate of successful appeals indicates that balance is generally accepted to be about right. On the subject of delays, we have also striven to maintain international best standards which require that charges involving persons in custody should be tried within 6 months of filing before the courts. Given the upsurge in serious crimes and related cases over the last five years, the Hon. Chief Justice has expressed concerns about slipping from this standard. One of the prime causes of the pressure on the Courts is the limitation in the number of courtrooms that we have available – six court rooms to deal with the whole range of criminal, civil and family cases.

Many cases are now heard in a judge’s chambers because there is nowhere else to hear them. Although this shortage is now chronic, priority is given to trials for defendants in custody (those charged with the gravest crimes) but it does mean longer delays for trials involving defendants on bail.

Any unnecessary delay is bad not only for defendants but also for victims and for those waiting to give evidence. The present court house was built over 30 years ago with two courtrooms – at the time it was thought that was an unnecessary extravagance! We have expanded within the building and into nearby buildings but far greater expansion of court facilities is now more urgent than ever; this was noted in the Throne Speech delivered earlier this week by HE the Governor.

Far from accepting delay as inevitable, in his speech on Jan. 16, 2013 at the formal opening of the Grand Court year, the Hon. Chief Justice referred to the creation of a Criminal Law Practice Committee to review the procedures and practices of all involved in criminal proceedings and find ways of speeding them up without sacrificing the checks and balances necessary to ensure that justice is done in each case.

There are many challenges facing every publicly funded service but the Courts clearly recognise the critical importance of ensuring that justice is readily (and equally) available to all and that “justice delayed is justice denied.”

A further step towards this will come soon when we will be making available on our website the laws of the Cayman Islands for all to see and this will be followed by making available the judgments of the court soon after they are handed down. Already there are very significant guidance resources available on the website:

Kevin McCormac

Court Administrator