Several years after government acquired the Scotiabank building in George Town, renovation efforts have finally begun, to create a temporary courtroom on the ground floor.
Court Administrator Suzanne Bothwell told the Cayman Compass work began back in the first quarter of the year and is expected to conclude by October.
“The value of this project overall will be between $1.475 million to $2 million,” she said.
Currently, Judicial Administration has seven courtrooms which serve as open courts, three of which are located in the main courthouse and the other four across the street in Kirk House. Constitution Hall is also regularly used as the eighth courtroom for minor matters such as traffic offences.
When completed, the new facility will bring the total number of courtrooms to nine.
“The construction of this courtroom does not mean the retirement of the other courts,” said Bothwell. “We are operating with a deficit when it comes to courtrooms both in terms of numbers and quality. All existing facilities will be utilised.”
For several successive years, Chief Justice Anthony Smellie has lamented the lack of courtrooms during the annual Grand Court opening. This year, Smellie stressed that the running deficit of courtrooms has led to a backlog of court cases which was now jeopardising the rights of many defendants to have their cases heard in a timely manner.
Electronic upgrades and rebranding plans
Smellie has, for several years, also called for a greater push towards the incorporation of electronic systems which would replace the current manual paper-based system in the various court registries.
Eventually, Bothwell said, the temporary courtroom which is under construction will be replaced with a ‘super registry’ capable of delivering on Smellie’s requests. A permanent courtroom will then be installed on the floor above.
In addition to the ongoing construction are rebranding efforts, where the main courthouse will be referred to as ‘Building A’, Kirk House as ‘Building B’ and the former Scotiabank premises will be known as ‘Building C’.
The renovations at the Scotiabank building are the first step in a multiphase project that hinges on government-allocated funding.
“[I]f funding is allocated in the 2022/2023 budget for the next phase of our renovations of Building C, we will be seeking to install a permanent courtroom and associated facilities for the Court of Appeal,” said Bothwell.
“At present this sits for three 3-week sessions every year, which is 9 weeks in total, however, due to the rise in business, over the last few years there have been a number of extra sittings in addition to their standard sessions.”
Bothwell said that when the Court of Appeal is not sitting, the facility will be used as an additional Grand Court. She added that, at this time, no money has been allocated for renovations to the main courts building.