From almost 6,000 traffic tickets to over 300 divorce petitions, Cayman’s court system dealt with a myriad of cases in 2018.
The numbers and kinds of issues heard were revealed on Wednesday when Chief Justice Anthony Smellie gave his annual report at the ceremonial opening of Grand Court.
In addition to a table of judicial and court statistics, the Chief Justice released a report on the Summary Courts, provided by Chief Magistrate Nova Hall.
Taken all together, and with commentary by other speakers, the data presented gives a comprehensive picture of the work undertaken by Cayman’s judges and magistrates, along with administrative and support staff.
The 316 divorce petitions comprised the largest number ever filed in one year, the Chief Justice said. They were heard in the Grand Court Family Division.
“Allowing those cases to run the gauntlet of contested trial is seldom in the best interest of the families involved,” he noted. “Mediation is a better alternative to which we are committed.”
He added that several of the judges are in fact being certified as mediators to assist this preferred process.
Cases in the Grand Court Criminal Division are usually widely publicized, given that they deal with community safety and social issues. Charges before the court last year ranged from murder and rape to burglary and alleged thefts by business owners. The 71 indictments concluded during the year was “about on par” with previous years, but 147 other indictments, the largest number ever, had to be carried over.
Cases in the Grand Court Civil Division were summarized by Acting Attorney General Reshma Sharma when she moved the motion for the court opening. The 262 matters in this division, including Admiralty, last year “ranged from challenges to the constitutionality of various legislative provisions, discrimination under the Bill of Rights …, asylum and complex commercial matters.”
Ms. Sharma and attorney Colin McKie highlighted the Chief Justice’s landmark ruling in AHAB vs. Saad, described as the longest and highest-value trial ever conducted in these islands.
“This high-profile fraud matter garnered widespread international attention and reinforced the already stellar reputation of the courts of these islands and their ability to deal, judicially and administratively, with cases of such magnitude and complexity,” Ms. Sharma said.
There were 247 cases filed last year in the Financial Services Division of Grand Court and 189 in the Estate Matters division. In addition, Grand Court judges heard 23 appeals of criminal matters from the Summary Courts.
Grand Court decisions taken to the Cayman Islands Court of Appeal included 23 criminal matters and 28 civil matters. Final appeal is to the Privy Council in London, and four cases were filed in 2018.
Chief Magistrate Hall explained the variety of work undertaken by magistrates in the different courts. Criminal and Traffic Courts are probably the two most widely known. There were 1,243 criminal cases filed last year and 1,526 traffic cases.
Police issued 5,925 traffic tickets. Persons who accepted guilt could generally pay a prescribed fine at the Court Treasury in advance of a court date; anyone contesting the alleged offense was expected to attend to have a trial date set.
Magistrates also deal with civil cases (242 filed last year) and those dealing with family (58 cases) and children (67 cases). Specialized courts presided over by magistrates include Coroner’s Inquests, with 50 such cases filed in 2018.
The Chief Magistrate also described the work of “diversionary” courts – those established by law or informally to deal with root causes of illegal behavior.
The Drug Rehabilitation Court is perhaps the best known of these. Participants usually attend for more than a year before completing their individualized program. In 2018, 13 people graduated, while 39 others applied to enroll.
A Mental Health Court is held monthly. These defendants, 25 last year, are persons with mental health issues who have been accused of an offense. They are monitored by the court with assistance from mental health workers, social workers and officers from the Department of Community Rehabilitation.
Individuals guilty of driving under the influence of alcohol are also monitored while they complete a prescribed counseling course.
The Summary Courts also monitor individuals who have admitted charges involving domestic violence and who have agreed to participate in a lengthy group counseling program.
The Chief Magistrate highlighted the new Specialist Domestic Violence Court, which began late last year and currently sits twice per month. Its main purpose is “to provide a swift resolution of matters for the victims of domestic violence.”
She said special mention had to be made of applications brought under the Protection from Domestic Violence Law of 2010, which seek protection from violence, abuse or harassment. Magistrates often deal with these outside normal court hours because of their urgent nature. “Recently the Summary Court has had to review this law as it relates to same-sex partnerships,” the Chief Magistrate reported.
Summary Courts share the problems of the Grand Courts in terms of not enough courtrooms and not enough defense attorneys, she said. The situation is exacerbated because, when there is a conflict, the higher court will almost always take precedence and the lower court matter will have to be adjourned.