Lawmakers lessen police court burden

Wednesday's Legislative Assembly meeting may be the first time a government has not attended after being summoned to parliament. - Photo: Brent Fuller

A bill approved by Cayman Islands lawmakers on Friday will allow government workers other than police officers to serve court witness summons.

According to Attorney General Samuel Bulgin, changes made to the criminal procedure code identify court bailiffs and other court personnel to serve witness summonses. Under the current rules, only police officers can summon witnesses to court.

“The hope is that it will relieve the police of this task and allow them to focus on more primary policing duties,” Mr. Bulgin said.

In July, Deputy Police Commissioner Kurt Walton said that serving hundreds of court summons each month was sapping police service resources.

The witness summonses are not warrants, which are dealt with separately and, in many cases, must be handled by police officers for safety reasons, Mr. Walton said. The witness summons are to get individuals who are providing testimony to court on the correct date.

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“Every witness summons the director of public prosecutions needs, … we serve those summonses,” he said. “Every customs case, every marine case. Immigration needs witnesses? We serve those summonses.”

The requirement under the criminal procedure code dates from 1975 when Cayman had “maybe 20 witnesses a year,” Mr. Walton said. There are now four officers in RCIPS focused on serving the summonses for court. “There’s no reason why that particular service cannot be outsourced,” he said.

The bill approved by legislators, which still requires an official third reading and approval by the governor, does not suggest the outsourcing of witness summonses, though in recent years that option has been discussed by government as a cost-saving measure. Rather, it states that any person designated by the clerk of the court to serve process would have the authority to carry out those activities.

In addition, summonses to court could be served electronically to government employees who often must attend court such as police officers, customs or immigration officers, Mr. Bulgin said.

Although he did not oppose the bill, East End MLA Arden McLean said he was concerned about the jobs of police officers who were now being used to serve summonses and whether those officers could realistically be put back on full active duty.

“Some of those officers serving summonses now are retired police officers back on contract,” Mr. McLean said. “I certainly do not want to condone or subscribe to a changing of the guard and then put Caymanians out to pasture. We need to watch how we do this.”

Acting Police Commissioner Anthony Ennis also addressed the witness summons issue in the larger context of public calls to “hire more police” to help control crime.

Mr. Ennis said he believes RCIPS has “sufficient personnel” to get the job done, if new cadet classes are brought in this year as the department hopes, as long as police officers could be taken off jobs the RCIPS views as non-law enforcement tasks.

As of early August, there were 365 uniformed officers, including auxiliary constables but not including special (volunteer) constables and civilian support staff in the RCIPS. Mr. Ennis said the department has been given the budget to hire 24 officers, some of whom will be recruited through a police cadet class starting in January.

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