With 674 Summary Court cases carried over into this year from 2017, and a Grand Court civil case in which the parties paid to rent a hotel conference room to serve as a courtroom, the need for more court space is more urgent than ever, Chief Justice Anthony Smellie said on Wednesday at the opening of the Grand Court for 2018.
The push for a new courthouse has been ongoing for 27 years and current facilities are lacking, to the extent that they have been described as “shoddy, cramped and wholly inadequate,” he said.
In the widely-publicized Ahmad Hamad Algosaibi & Brothers Co. fraud case, referred to as AHAB, the courtroom had to be fitted out with the necessary technical equipment, “by the parties themselves, at considerable expense,” the Chief Justice said.
Three of seven courtrooms present security concerns because they were not designed for criminal cases, he said.
In Summary Court, two magistrates sometimes have to share one courtroom, which leads to inevitable delays; or one magistrate may have to preside over two lists, which leads to adjournments, he summarized. “We struggle from year to year to ensure people receive timely justice,” he commented.
In Grand Court, delays could impair Cayman’s reputation as a leading financial center, he said. A main reason people chose to do business in Cayman is its judicial system’s reputation for independence, integrity, incorruptibility and efficiency, he said.
The Chief Justice read a letter written in November 2017 by Court Administrator Suzanne Bothwell to the chairman of the Finance Committee, Minister Roy McTaggart, and copied to Premier Alden McLaughlin expressing concern that a $4 million request for acquisition of land in George Town and design plans for a new courthouse had been removed without any explanation. What funds were approved for the Judiciary were wholly insufficient for the court project to advance, he pointed out. Ms. Bothwell had asked for the matter to return to Finance Committee for a supplement to the judicial budget but to date she had received no answer.
From the Chief Justice’s perspective, this was “a new and sudden demonstration of indifference.”
The Chief Justice quoted section 108 of the Constitution: “The Legislature and the Cabinet shall uphold the rule of law and judicial independence, and shall endeavor that adequate funds are provided to support the judicial administration in the Cayman Islands.”
Both Mr. McLaughlin and Mr. McTaggart were in court to hear the Chief Justice’s address. Governor Helen Kilpatrick, Deputy Governor Franz Manderson and MLAs Alva Suckoo and Kenneth Bryan also attended.
The ceremonial opening began with a police guard of honor outside the Law Courts Building, observed by numerous attorneys, court staff and passers-by. Guests then filled Court 1, with an overflow directed to Court 2, where proceedings were seen on a large screen via Skype.
Attorney General Samuel Bulgin spoke first in moving the motion for the opening of court. The motion was seconded by attorney Alasdair Robertson on behalf of the Cayman Islands Law Society and attorney Stephen Watler on behalf of the Caymanian Bar Association, both of whom spoke about the need for a modern Legal Practitioners Law. Attorney Colin McKie, speaking as a contributing editor for the Cayman Islands Law Reports, explained what is meant by the rule of law. Their speeches will be reported in a subsequent issue of the Cayman Compass.