Grand Court opening: Chief justice laments court constraints

Smellie flags chronic shortage of criminal defence attorneys

“The struggle continues.”

That was the refrain from Chief Justice Anthony Smellie on Wednesday as he addressed the formal opening of Grand Court.

He lamented that as Cayman’s judiciary entered a new decade, the perennial challenges of lack of courtroom space and a chronic shortage of criminal defence attorneys still persist.

Smellie said there has been “tangible efforts” on the part of the government to relieve the issue of courtroom space through the purchase of the old Scotiabank building in George Town.

However, he said, not much progress has been made to modify the building for the two much-needed courtrooms.

He said the retrofitting of the building for the courtrooms has not been accomplished as planned.

The building, he said, is partially occupied by administrative staff to take some of the pressure off the existing court facilities.

But, Smellie said, the judiciary cannot engage a contractor for the project as it requires permission from government departments, including Planning, and Lands and Survey.

He stressed that the matter must be addressed with “utmost urgency” and that it not be bogged down by red tape.

Summary Court feeling the pressure
Smellie, in his speech, also sought to address the issue of Summary Court inefficiencies flagged last year in an Office of the Auditor General report.

The report registered concerns over the plans for the redevelopment of the courthouse, a lack of performance measures, and the absence of financial information.

Auditor General Sue Winspear, in her report, also questioned the need for 10 courtrooms.
However, the chief justice explained that, under existing facilities, the Summary Court has to rotate available space among the Coroner’s Court, Drug Court, Court of Appeal and the Domestic Violence Court.

Added to that burden is what he called a chronic shortage of criminal defence attorneys.

Smellie pointed out that the small cadre of defence attorneys is often called away from the Summary Court when there are Grand Court matters being heard and when the Court of Appeal is in session.

He lamented that such a shortage within a legal fraternity of “960-strong” is not a “happy consequence”.

Unauthorised practice of law highlighted

Smellie also called for action on the practice of unauthorised individuals providing legal advice to clients.

It was an issue Attorney General Samuel Bulgin brought up in his speech as he raised the motion in the court to open Grand Court.

Bulgin said there are people who are not lawyers drafting legal documents.

“It is illegal to do so; they need to know this is illegal,” Bulgin said.
Smellie urged Director of Public Prosecutions Patrick Moran, who was present, to take action.

He said the judiciary has lodged three reports on the issue.

New Legal Services Law planned

Smellie welcomed news that a Legal Services Law was on the way to modernise the practice of Cayman Islands law.

David Collins, president of the Cayman Islands Legal Practitioners Association, highlighted the new legislation in his speech as he called for support from the judiciary.

Collins said the draft Legal Services Bill fulfils the need for regulation of the legal services industry.

“The draft Legal Services Bill also ensures that Cayman Islands law remains accessible to Cayman’s international clients, reduces the cost of doing business for small firms, provides a mandatory training regime for all attorneys, and delivers a framework to support the development and progression of Caymanian attorneys within law firms,” Collins said.

He added that Cayman’s legal services market will only be sustainable in the long run if suitably qualified and developed Caymanians are in key management and leadership roles within law firms.