A specialist domestic violence court to fast-track a growing number of abuse cases has been proposed by a review of the Cayman Islands criminal justice system.
The recommendation, one of a series of reforms suggested by Criminal Justice Adviser Claire Wetton, seeks to prevent cases falling apart because of victims retracting statements.
Describing domestic violence as an “escalating problem” in the territory, the review also suggests legislative changes to allow “hearsay evidence” in cases where victims are ultimately unwilling to testify.
“The time taken to prosecute domestic violence cases often means that by the time the case has reached the Summary Court, the victim wishes to retract,” Ms. Wetton comments in her review.
“There is a zero tolerance policy in relation to domestic violence and the cases proceed, but can fail once the victim has retracted.
“A dedicated domestic violence court where cases can be fast tracked, with the cases being listed within twenty-four hours of the complaint would reduce the number of retractions and delay in the process.”
Monthly Summary Court hearings, informally referred to as domestic violence court, are already held to monitor offenders taking part in domestic anti-violence therapy programs, but do not currently address many of the elements raised in the review.
The report also highlighted issues with victim and witness protection during trial, pointing out that they are often required to sit in the same waiting area as the defendant and his supporters.
It recommends a dedicated witness waiting area be introduced alongside a volunteer-staffed witness care service.
Ms. Wetton was seconded from the U.K. Crown Prosecution Service for three months in early 2015 to review the criminal justice system in Cayman.
She helped establish a Criminal Justice Board, bringing together court staff, police, prosecutors and defense attorneys to provide strategic oversight.
Ms. Wetton’s recommendations, released Friday, include new policies to speed up handling of cases and prevent low-level offenses from clogging up the courts. Some of the recommendations are set out in Practice Directions for police and prosecutors and will come into force on Sept. 1.
The report and practice directions highlight incomplete evidence and lack of communication between police and the Department of Public Prosecutions among the causes of unnecessary delays.
Key recommendations include:
All cases before Summary Court should be completed within 12 months of first hearing
Legal changes to allow low-level offenses to be dealt with out of court
Bulk of evidence to be gathered prior to charges being brought
Performance monitoring for prosecutors in court
Performance monitoring of quality of police files submitted to prosecutors.
The report identifies the relationship between police and prosecutors as a key area for improvement.
It states, “The police and prosecution face a number of issues in relation to evidential file build and case management with both agencies often working in silos. This impacts the court process and causes delay and adjournments.”
Delays in bringing cases to court are often caused by missing or incomplete evidence in the police file, it adds.
A new case management system is recommended, along with time limits and supervisor oversight on police files.
The report notes that the court is content to grant adjournments for “less than satisfactory reasons,” including lawyers indicating that they need to read their papers.
“There are far too many unnecessary adjournments,” it states. The adviser also recommended police be given powers to deal with certain offenses out of court.
Currently, police are not able to authorize charges, except in traffic cases. Once an arrest is made, a suspect either has to be released without charge or the case referred to the Department of Public Prosecutions for a decision.
The report suggests an “alternative disposal system for low level offending that would result in a nominal penalty.” It suggests this would avoid wasting police and court time for relatively minor offenses and could result in increased public confidence and reduce re-offending.
The Ministry of Home Affairs is looking into a U.K.-style system of police cautions for minor crimes, officials said.
Justice Charles Quin is currently chairing a group that is working on new sentencing guidelines.
The review, funded by the governor’s office, was welcomed by Governor Helen Kilpatrick and Director of Public Prosecutions Cheryll Richards.
Ms. Kilpatrick said, “I was very pleased to support the project which I believe will help reduce criminality in the Cayman Islands through a more efficient criminal justice system.”