Grand Court opening: Case management to be reviewed

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The office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, Cheryll Richards, will review support systems involved in the preparation of criminal cases for court, Attorney General Samuel Bulgin announced on Wednesday at the ceremonial opening of Grand Court. 

U.K. Criminal Justice Advisor Claire Wetton “will for a three-month period assist in conducting an efficiency review of the systems in place,” he said. It will begin within the next three months. 

The review will cover case management, evidence gathering, delivery of evidence, witness preparation and care, the working relationship between police and prosecutors, and disclosure of evidence to defense attorneys. 

A post of senior crime case manager is also being created within the DPP’s office to ensure that trials are able to proceed in an efficient manner, Mr. Bulgin said. 

The attorney general was one of four speakers who formally moved the opening of the court for 2015, after a brief and colorful ceremony outside the Law Courts Building. Chief Justice Anthony Smellie replied to them all and made some observations of his own. 

He noted, for example, that the Grand Court had failed to reach the benchmark for timely disposal of cases: as of December 31, 118 indictments were awaiting trial, 23 of those dating from 2012 or before. The state has a constitutional obligation to provide timely trials, he pointed out. [In 2012, he explained that the benchmark for Grand Court criminal matters is to have them disposed of within 180 days.] 

The Chief Justice said there was “simply no hope” of improving the rate of dealing with cases because there are only two suitable courtrooms for serious criminal matters. In actuality, given the needs of the Summary Courts, there is only a single courtroom [Court One] available. 

He expressed pleasure, as did other speakers, in Mr. Bulgin’s confirmation that government is actively looking at the matter of additional accommodation for the courts. Mr. Bulgin stated earlier, “We are confident that there is light at the end of the tunnel as the government is very committed to dealing with this long-standing issue as recently outlined by the Premier [Alden McLaughlin] in his strategic policy statement in the Legislative Assembly.” 

Dignitaries and special guests attending the ceremony included Governor Helen Kilpatrick, Deputy Governor Franz Manderson, Premier Alden McLaughlin, Deputy Premier Moses Kirkconnell, Finance Minister Marco Archer, Education Minister Tara Rivers and Police Commissioner David Baines. Retired attorneys and magistrates included Sir Peter Allen, Truman Bodden, Ramon Alberga, Kipling Douglas and Peter Jackson. Members of the public and private bar and court staff spilled over into an adjacent courtroom, where they witnessed proceedings via closed circuit TV. 

Both the chief justice and the attorney general reported on measures that have improved the efficiency with which cases are being dealt with. One is the provision of a small, seventh courtroom used to clear up a backlog of matters in which defendants did not have attorneys and had been given distant trial dates. With the dedication of acting magistrates and designated Crown counsel, two to three trials per day have been able to proceed since the middle of 2014.  

Another improvement is a video link between the courts and Northward Prison, so that defendants in custody can have their matters mentioned without having to be transported to town. 

Law Society president Alasdair Robertson and Caymanian Bar Association president Abraham Thoppil said it was a mystery why, after more then 10 years, the Legal Practitioners Law has not yet been modernized to enable local firms to compete successfully on a global basis. The Chief Justice endorsed their concerns about the impact this could have on the reputation of the jurisdiction. 

Colin McKie, consultant editor of the Cayman Islands Law Reports, spoke of the importance of judges’ written judgments, so that reasons could be understood both by the parties directly concerned and the general public.  

In 2014, Cayman’s judges wrote 137 judgments and rulings about difficult and novel matters, he noted, including personal injury, immigration decisions, land and strata disputes as well as criminal cases. 

He expressed concern that several Court of Appeal written decisions were outstanding for more than a year. The Chief Justice said he would be discussing this issue with the court president. 

All speeches are being posted on the Judicial and Legal Information website. 

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Chief Justice Anthony Smellie takes the general salute, led by Chief Inspector Brad Ebanks. With him are, from left, Justices Ingrid Mangatal, Richard Williams, Charles Quin, Angus Foster and Alexander Henderson; Police commissioner David Baines, Court Administrator Tabitha Philander and Chief Marshal Richard Harford. – Photo: Jewel Levy
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