Courts to tackle case backlog

Two possible court sites proposed

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Three acting magistrates, a panel of acting judges, and proposals for Cabinet for more court space are some of the ways Chief Justice Anthony Smellie announced on Wednesday for dealing with an ever increasing case load and backlog. 

Case intakes and disposal trends have not improved, he pointed out, saying that in Grand Court, for example, 94 indictments have been carried over from 2013 into 2014. People are having to wait more than a year for trial, although the benchmark is six months, he said. 

Chief Justice Smellie made the comments in his address at the formal opening of Grand Court for 2014, with Governor Helen Kilpatrick, Premier Alden McLaughlin, government ministers and MLAs attending, along with a large number of attorneys and dignitaries. 

The acting magistrates he named for the Summary Courts are Angelyn Hernandez, Philippa McFarlane Ebanks and Adam Roberts. Their appointments will allow a more specialized approach to cases, he indicated. Former Magistrate Grace Donalds and attorney Eileen Nervik have been serving in acting capacities. 

For the Grand Court, 13 judges from other jurisdictions have been approved to act when needed on a temporary basis. 

Attorney General Samuel Bulgin was the first to mention the “long standing issue of the need for more court room space,” but Cayman Bar Association president Dale Crowley went further, suggesting two possible sites: the old Government Administration Building, popularly known as the Glass House, and the site of the old Tower Building on North Church Street. He pointed out that the new Constitution requires the Cabinet and Legislature to ensure that adequate funds are provided to support the judicial administration. 

The Chief Justice did not specify either of those locations, but confirmed two alternatives will be presented to Cabinet shortly. “Hopefully, next year I will be able to say we are about to realize a new court house,” he said. 

He noted that the Town Hall in George Town has been used as a court room and judges are using their chambers for open court because the six courtrooms in the Law Courts Building and Kirk House are not sufficient for the work that must be done. 

Law Society president Alasdair Robertson emphasized the international work done in Cayman’s courts and the legal professions contribution to the financial industry, along with local criminal and civil cases. 

Attorney Colin McKie detailed the many types of “difficult and novel” matters the courts dealt with: investment funds; duties of directors and other fiduciaries; professional negligence; tracing claims and restitution; confidentiality; insolvencies, bankruptcies, and receiverships; cross-border judicial cooperation in insolvencies and in the exchange of tax information. 

Judgments last year included personal injuries disputes, “regrettably, often arising out of road traffic accidents;” land disputes; and employment disputes. He also noted the challenges to the development of the West Bay Road, the granting of the George Town Heliport license, disclosures ordered by the Information Commissioner, challenges to decisions of the immigration boards and valuations of land on compulsory acquisition. 

“Notably the judges have also dealt with an election petition and the first challenges to compatibility of our domestic statutes with the Constitution, and in one declared one section of the Police Law to be incompatible. The Civil Division has had its fair share of proceedings arising out of the local consequences of the prevailing economic conditions; in particular, the number of proceedings arising out of defaults on mortgages remains very high,” 

Mr. Bulgin also referred to challenges arising from the Bill of Rights against provisions in the Police Law and Bail Law. He said those challenges “serve as an affirmation that the Constitution is working for those whom it is designed to serve, that is, the people of these islands.” 

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Grand Court judges attending the formal opening ceremony are, from left, Justices Richard Williams, Sir Peter Cresswell, Charles Quin, Alexander Henderson, Chief Justice Anthony Smellie, Angus Foster and Andrew Jones. – Photo: Chris Court
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