Number of courtrooms could more than double in new plans

With all courtrooms in use, judges use chambers

Monday April 11 was a good example of why Cayman needs a bigger courthouse, but Court Administrator Kevin McCormac says space is not the only concern. On the other hand, plans currently being discussed include the possibility of more than doubling the number of courtrooms now available.

A shortage of facilities has meant that chambers are sometimes used for hearings that should be open to the public. At present, the judiciary has access to seven courtrooms as well as the George Town Town Hall.

Last Monday, Justice Seymour Panton presided over a criminal trial in Court One. The Court of Appeal sat in Court Two. Downstairs in Court Three, Magistrate Valdis Foldats held Summary Court. Across the road in Kirk House, Queen’s Coroner Eileen Nervik conducted an inquest in Court Four; Justice Paul Worsley presided in the jury trial of Michelle Bouchard in Court Five; Justice Richard Jones presided over a civil matter in Court Six and there was a Summary Court civil matter with Magistrate Angelyn Hernandez in Court Seven.

Magistrate Grace Donalds held Traffic Court in the Town Hall, while Chief Magistrate Nova Hall dealt with a family matter in her chambers. Justice Robin McMillan used his chambers as open court to hear a winding-up petition.

On the topic of a new courthouse, Chief Justice Anthony Smellie reminded his audience at the formal opening of Grand Court in January that a Steering Committee was formed last year to identify ways of realizing the project. Further, PwC had been engaged and was given 100 days to develop an outline business case, which is required for all large-scale government projects.

PwC is on schedule, Mr. McCormac reported. “They have had two rounds of meetings with key ‘stakeholders’ – judiciary, practitioners, George Town revitalization project, etc.”

He pointed out that the project “is certainly about more space, but it is also about improving the quality of the facilities.”

At present, “it is not possible to properly provide for victims, witnesses or jurors within the current facilities, nor can we provide properly for security,” he said.

Mr. McCormac pointed out that members of the public come to the court buildings for purposes other than attending court. They currently have to choose between offices spread across two buildings and several floors, which makes it more difficult to provide the quality of service staff would like to be able to offer.

As for facilities to hear all the various criminal and civil cases, both local and international, “We are certainly looking (at this stage) for 13 courtrooms (a mixture of formal, semi-formal and informal) with a potential for a further five rooms,” Mr. McCormac said.

The potential five rooms would be needed “if the government decides to proceed further with the recommendation in the Ernst & Young report to create a unified tribunal service within judicial administration. The tribunal proposal is still at a very early stage,” he explained.

“In addition, we are exploring the potential for enabling alternative dispute resolution, especially mediation, to be facilitated within the new building, since this can be a better way of resolving disputes in appropriate cases.”

He added that he had been present at almost all of the stakeholder meetings. “There were very beneficial and positive discussions at all of them, which were extremely helpful in assisting PwC to develop the business case. Needless to say, there is widespread agreement that a new court facility is needed.”

Mr. McCormac added that PwC are about halfway through the 100 days; the company has until early June to complete the work it needs to do.

The rest of the process was explained by Chief Justice Smellie when he concluded his remarks on a positive note in his January speech: “Once complete, the business case will go to Cabinet for approval and assuming the project is approved, we then move into the construction phase. On this basis, we are expecting that construction should be well under way by this time next year.”