New system impacts court cases

A system of “case management” has been introduced in the Summary Court as a way to move criminal cases through the court process with reduced delays and improved efficiency. 

Case management, which came into effect on Sept. 1, is one result of a review of Cayman’s criminal justice system. 

Adviser Claire Wetton was seconded from the U.K. Crown Prosecution Service for three months earlier this year. Case management was one of her recommendations. On July 29, Chief Justice Anthony Smellie issued a formal direction on how case management is to work. His direction includes a case management form for every criminal case, with copies for the magistrate, the defendant, and the prosecution – all of whom have responsibility for filling in some part of that form. 

The form requires details of the offense alleged, details of the defendant, contact information for the defense attorney and the Crown counsel. It asks if all information about the offense has been disclosed or if further evidence is expected. 

It also deals with such preliminary matters as whether there will be issues of law to be argued or what evidence can be agreed. A list of witnesses is required and both sides will have to identify in advance any particular need, such as an interpreter or access to a CCTV player. 

Between Sept. 1–30, approximately 85 new non-traffic cases came before the Summary Court, Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions Patrick Moran told the Cayman Compass. In 100 percent of the cases, he confirmed, case management forms were provided to the defendant or the defendant’s attorney at his or her first appearance in court. 

In 80 percent of the cases, the prosecution was able to fill in its part of the form in advance because the case papers had been provided to the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions in time. 

When the case papers were not provided in sufficient time for the defendant’s first appearance, arrangements were made to ensure that the prosecution sections of the form were completed before a date set by the presiding magistrate. In 100 percent of cases, the prosecution sections of the form were completed in advance of the case management hearing. 

Of the 85 new cases that came before the Summary Court in September, a Compass reporter was able to follow 43 of them through the system. On a defendant’s first appearance, the Crown prosecutor typically handed over a case management form and copies of a summary of the case against the person, along with any interview and witness statements. The presiding magistrate advised unrepresented defendants to read the papers carefully and come prepared on the next date to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty. 

For defendants who were represented, an extra consideration was when their attorney would be available, since any commitment in the Grand Court takes precedence. 

Chief Magistrate Nova Hall set the pattern for scheduling case management hearings. New cases usually come to court on a Tuesday. She has designated the Thursday of the following week for the defendant to return to court, giving the person nine days to read the papers and decide how to proceed. If there are unusual circumstances, the return date is adjusted, but Thursdays became informal “case management” days. 

Of the 43 cases observed by the Compass, 21 involved defendants who did not have an attorney. Nineteen received their papers at their first appearance. Fourteen defendants entered their pleas during either their first or second appearance. Of those 14, seven have trial dates set and seven are returning for sentencing within eight weeks. 

The remaining seven cases included one for which the Crown withdrew the charge at the defendant’s second appearance. In two cases, the man told the court the complainant in the case against him was making a retraction statement, so a follow-up date was set to give the investigating officer time to check. One defendant said he wanted to apply for legal aid. Two defendants were given a further date for their case management hearing. 

One defendant did not speak sufficient English, so was given a new date to appear with an Spanish language interpreter. On his second appearance, the interpreter was asked to go through the papers with the defendant before a case management date was set. 

With some of the unrepresented defendants, the chief magistrate worked through their forms with them. In several cases, the list of prosecution witnesses raised questions. 

In one instance, the chief magistrate asked a defendant if he wanted all the police officers who gave statements to attend his trial. “Yeah, you can bring ‘em,” he replied. She asked if, for example, he disagreed with the officer whose only role in the case was that he witnessed the defendant’s interview. The defendant said he wouldn’t have any questions for this officer, so she explained that the written statement would be considered evidence. The defendant agreed there were several witnesses whose statements he would not be challenging, so they did not need to give evidence in person. 

The extra minutes spent sorting out the witness list means time will be saved by the people who will not have to attend the trial and the trial time itself should be shorter. 

Of the 22 defendants who had attorneys speak for them at their first appearance, the court was advised in three cases that legal aid had not yet been granted or had not yet been applied for. 

Three cases involved charges that can be dealt with only in the Grand Court and these were transmitted forthwith. Another defendant elected to be tried in Grand Court, so a date was set for preliminary inquiry. 

Six defendants entered pleas and five of them had dates set for trial or sentence. The sixth was represented, but his attorney requested permission to come off record after the plea stage, so no trial date has been set. 

Attorneys identified legal issues to be addressed before case management could be completed for three cases and one case required further disclosure from the Crown. One defendant charged with theft had his case management date set toward the end of October because of the large volume of papers disclosed. The remaining cases were set for case management hearings by the second Thursday in October. 

Defense attorneys have generally welcomed the new case management procedure. 

“Anything that improves the court system is an excellent thing,” sole practitioner Clyde Allen commented. He pointed out that receiving the papers at a client’s first court appearance enables the attorney to have a proper understanding of the case, take instructions and give advice early on. 

He wondered if problems will arise when an attorney, having filled out a case management form, discovers he needs more disclosure from the Crown. “But it’s a work in progress,” Mr. Allen noted. 

Attorney Alice Carver, who joined the firm of Samson & McGrath in June, pointed out that case management is a regular step in Grand Court matters and case management forms are used in the English equivalents of both the Summary and Grand Courts. The introduction of the forms in Cayman is theoretically a very positive step, she said, because they “help guarantee that issues are identified in advance and are not overlooked by the Court, Prosecution or Defense.” 

However, she added, the forms and the process for their completion need improvement. “For example, the form does not have a section for the defense to indicate any disclosure required in order for the defendant to have a fair trial,” she noted. 

In addition, the speed with which the parties are required to complete the case management frequently does not allow sufficient time for defense counsel to obtain legal aid or the paperwork needed to properly advise clients, Ms. Carver said. 

Veteran defense attorney John Furniss, who earlier in his career served as a Crown prosecutor and more
recently as an acting magistrate, agreed with Mr. Allen that having case papers disclosed early enables an attorney to have discussions with his client early. 

He also agreed that just having a case management form to fill out “helps the defendant focus his mind on the issues.” 

That perspective was borne out by the fact that, of the 21 unrepresented defendants, only three failed to bring their papers with them on their second court date. One apologized, explaining he had moved house and lost the papers in the process. Another apologized and said he had left the papers where his kids got at them and “just destroyed them.” Only one admitted that he just forgot; he, too, apologized. 

The Law Courts Building in downtown George Town
The Law Courts Building in downtown George Town

Chief Justice Anthony Smellie

Chief Justice Anthony Smellie