The Cayman Islands Judicial Administration has been working toward digitalizing its court records for more than two years, according to a Freedom of Information request conducted by the Cayman Compass, and has entered into contractual obligations worth more than US$150,000 in order to make it happen.

The court’s push to make court records accessible on its website were highlighted in 2017 after a battle over the publication of open records.

Canadian consultant

Documents obtained by the Compass show the Judicial Administration had entered into an agreement with Canadian firm CSDC Systems Inc. long before that, in late 2016, to digitally convert court records and place them online. The court has said on multiple occasions that it hopes to have court records online in short order, but a review of correspondence indicates that it could be ready to function internally as soon as April this year.

The agreement, which has been reviewed by the Compass, involves an investment of US$109,800 to modernize the court’s record system. There will also be assorted maintenance fees involved.

The court system contacted CSDC Systems because it wanted to upgrade from a program named JEMS to one called AMANDA JEMS 7. The upgrade would allow for digital record-keeping of cases and warrants, and would facilitate electronic payments, as well as online calendars and docket scheduling.

The Cayman Islands Judicial Administration entered into the agreement with CSDC Systems in October 2016, and it was signed by court administrator Suzanne Bothwell on Dec. 12, 2016.

The Judicial Administration paid US$15,000 for software and $70,710 for professional services related to implementation and overall project management.

Staff training, data conversion

It also agreed to pay US$24,090 for training and an annual maintenance fee of US$60,025 once the system is operational. CSDC also asked for a fee of US$5,950 to use an analytical tool named YellowFin and Portal-Docket Sheet. Then, in September 2018, Cayman contracted CSDC to organize one last round of training. CSDC charged US$21,400 for that final training, which is expected to take place in April.

Shiona Allenger, the clerk of court, sent an email to Ms. Bothwell on Sept. 14 last year asking how the final round of training would differ from the training set out in the 2016 contract.

In her response, Ms. Bothwell indicated that the initial training was conducted via video link and did not allow for individual training of departments within the judicial administration.

“I am now proposing that each division be trained separately with the Trainers actually being on island and providing the necessary hands-on training that was not possible in the previous training session,” wrote Ms. Bothwell. “In addition, there have been some changes to the platform which we believe that the Staff will need to intimately familiarize themselves with the details of the program.”

As part of the 2016 agreement, CSDC Systems provided a checklist to the Judicial Administration describing how the upgrade process would work. The initial stage would be planning and evaluation, followed by analyzing the readiness of the court’s digital infrastructure.

From there, CSDC would gather requirements and begin work on preparation and data conversion. Finally, it would configure the new system, train and test it and then ultimately go live.

The Judicial Administration also entered into a 36-month agreement with Brac Informatics Centre that will cost CI$3,600 for development and implementation and CI$1,350 a month for subscription service.

Sam Kumar, a customer success manager for CSDC Systems, sent an email to the Judicial Administration in November 2018 that helped to state the schedule for the project’s completion.

Mr. Kumar wrote that the data conversion project will begin in January 2019 and is expected to be done by the end of the first quarter of 2019. Mr. Kumar also indicated that training will begin either in late March or early April, and will encompass two different groups of trainees.

The first group – support staff – will be trained at the price agreed to in September 2018. The second group – magistrate/judiciary training – will be trained at a rate that has not been agreed to yet.

The system, once completed, will allow users to search for cases and for attorneys and magistrates to file paperwork and their schedules digitally. The court system indicated that its goals for the upgrade include efficiency, cutting down on paper and obtaining analytical reports with correct statistics.

Long delays, public dispute

In September 2017, the Judicial Administration office told the Compass that it had begun the process of digitizing its court records and that it hoped to have all existing public registers online by the end of that year.

A few months later – in December 2017 – Ms. Bothwell told the Compass that the registers could be online as early as January 2018. But when that failed to materialize, Ms. Allenger acknowledged in October 2018 that the project would not be completed until the following year.

The Compass inquired about what CSDC had been doing to advance the project during the period between the initial contract agreement reached in December 2016 and the beginning of the data conversion project in early 2019, but Ms. Allenger was unable to answer that question.

“Unfortunately, I am not able to answer your query as to what CSDC was doing as they have other clients and we had to wait until their schedules allowed for them to complete the conversion aspect of the project,” said Ms. Allenger in an email response to a request for comment.

The court’s lack of digital access became a point of controversy in April 2017 when the court system began restricting the photocopying of public records by citizens and the media. At that time, the court indicated that “wholesale reproduction” of court records by publications that operate by subscription service – such as Offshore Alert – amounted to an “unauthorized sale of those documents for profit.”

Later in the month, the acting court of clerk issued a notice signifying an apparent reversal of that decision, and restoring access to copying.

In May 2017, Offshore Alert owner David Marchant criticized Cayman’s Chief Justice Anthony Smellie over the changes in the reproduction of public records policy, saying: “[Chief] Justice Smellie basically needs to get his act in order because his actions, or the actions of the court, over the last three weeks have been disgraceful, indefensible and contemptible.”

In June 2017, the Grand Court Rules Committee met to consider revising procedures involved in searching and publishing the contents of open court records. At that time, Ms. Bothwell indicated that the court could begin making registries publicly available on its website.

“I can confirm that steps are currently under way to make available online, on the Judicial Website, free of cost, the inspection of all public registers, including unreported judgments,” Ms. Bothwell said. “This is aimed at expanding the public’s access to court records.”