Three proposals for new facilities to meet the pressing demand for new court space in the Cayman Islands were dismissed as unaffordable, Chief Justice Anthony Smellie revealed Wednesday.
He said consultants PwC, who produced a business case for the project, had been asked to go back to the drawing board and come up with cheaper alternatives.
He was speaking at the formal opening of Grand Court for 2017 after a ceremonial inspection of a police guard of honor.
Mr. Smellie said the lack of court space was a perennial concern that threatened to impact the administration of justice in the Cayman Islands. He said Cayman’s courts were facing a “relentless workload” comparable to that of much larger jurisdictions.
The chief justice said, “We must do all we possibly can to avoid the situation, so lamentably common in less developed countries where people, all of them innocent until proven guilty and many of them ultimately acquitted of wrongdoing, languish in prison for unacceptably long periods of time before disposal of their cases.
“Thanks to the stalwart efforts of all concerned, we are mercifully not yet in that situation, but we will find ourselves there inevitably, not long from now unless the new building becomes a reality.”
The need for new court space has become an annual feature of the chief justice’s address, delivered at the formal opening of court to Cayman’s legal fraternity.
Last year, he reported that PwC had been recruited to work on the business case, a prerequisite for all major government projects. He said the firm had been instructed to work on the basis that at least 10 courtrooms and adjoining office space were needed.
Speaking Wednesday, he said, “Three alternative design options were developed by PwC but each of them presented immediate concerns about feasibility and affordability. As a result, it will be proposed to Cabinet that PwC are instructed to go back to the drawing board to develop a fourth and possibly fifth more affordable option.”
The need for new space is particularly pressing in the summary courts, which handle an average of 10,000 criminal and traffic cases annually.
He said the “dedication and hard work” of all involved in the justice system had ensured there was no “gridlock” in the courts.
Despite a lack of courtrooms and “other practical challenges,” he said summary courts disposed of 1,639 criminal and 8,860 traffic cases in Grand Cayman last year.
There were 277 such cases in Cayman Brac, 144 cases involving youth offenders, while 47 defendants were referred to the Mental Health Court and 44 new applicants entered the Drug Courts. Additionally, the coroner held 53 inquests.
There were 500 family and civil cases; 121 indictments were filed in the Grand Court and 132 cases were disposed of – a marked increase on 2015, when 72 cases were disposed of.
He said the cases spanned the gamut of criminal activity, including complex fraud cases, murder, robbery and a “marked and troubling increase in sensitive child abuse cases.”