It is no secret that Cayman’s court facilities are “shabby, cramped and wholly inadequate,” as Chief Justice Anthony Smellie described them on Wednesday at the opening of the Grand Court for 2018.
The chief justice has been issuing the same judgment about court facilities for years, but government seems unable to replace these overcrowded, ill-equipped and antiquated facilities. Not surprisingly, the issue appears to be either one of priorities – or a lack of cash.
On Wednesday, Chief Justice Smellie reiterated some of the most impactful recent examples of the ways that inaction was negatively effecting the administration of justice on our islands. He described:
- Parties in a legal case paying for a hotel conference room so that their case could be heard (call it “Marriott Justice”)
- Parties paying to equip a courtroom with the technical equipment necessary to conduct a proper trial
- Courtrooms without adequate security for the safe hearing of criminal cases
- A lack of courtroom space that sometimes requires magistrates to share a single courtroom, exacerbating court delays.
In addition, current facilities for administration of the courts – offices, meeting rooms, record keeping repositories, etc., – are overflowing and operating far beyond capacity.
Speaking of capacity, we offer this example: the coffin-sized elevator at the Kirk House courthouse annex on Albert Panton Street. The elevator, which leads to the chambers of the chief justice, measures only 3.5 feet in width, less than half the wingspan of an average-size pelican.
(We know this because we sent Milo Dack, our newest newsroom intern, to the annex with a tape measure. He did fine with the elevator but was reluctant to hit the button to the fourth floor to attempt to assess the chief justice’s measurements. No matter. Even a casual observer would concede Chief Justice Smellie is certainly large enough, in stature and prestige, to deserve better vertical transportation than an elevator designed, obviously, for Lilliputians.)
It is worth noting that of the three branches of government, the judicial branch may be the most participatory. Today, on the front page of the Compass, we focus on citizens’ role in the dispensation of justice, via a comprehensive report by journalist Carol Winker on Cayman’s jury system. (Through decades of professional experience, Ms. Winker has gleaned perhaps more knowledge about Cayman’s courts than anyone not donning a robe and wig).
What will it take for government to commit to constructing the spacious, modern and secure building that is required for the proper functioning of our courts? If leaders are unmoved or unembarrassed by the current state of our judicial infrastructure, they might want to consider the negative impact on Cayman’s international reputation that is created by these obsolete accommodations.
As the chief justice said on Wednesday, “Modern courtrooms capable of accommodating complex trials are now standard facilities in many of our competing jurisdictions.”
Yes – in the realm of international finance, offshore centers such as Cayman “compete” to host blockbuster civil trials that could, legally speaking, take place in any number of jurisdictions.
The chief justice continued: “A main reason why people chose to do business within the Islands is its judicial system’s reputation for independence, integrity, incorruptibility and, yes, efficiency as well. When hundreds of millions or even billions of dollars worth of assets are at stake, inefficiency and its resultant delay become intolerable.”
Where we should build the facility (may we suggest the site of either the old “Glass House” or the Tower Building – the government already owns both parcels) and how much we should spend on it are questions for another day.
For today, the verdict issued by Chief Justice Smellie is clear, correct and, in a just world, unappealable: It is past time for Cayman to address the inadequate facilities of our courts.