Antigua and Barbuda achieved another first with the launch of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court’s Family Division.
The newly opened Family Court is the first of its kind in the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS).
The court – the brainchild of Chief Justice of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court, Dame Janice Pereia – will now be used as a model for other territories within the ambit of the ECSC.
The Family Court will be located on the premises of the High Court of Justice in the area that once housed the law library .
Attorney General Steadroy Benjamin explained it was necessary to establish the new court to deal exclusively with issues affecting families including divorce and separation, paternity matters, adoptions and domestic violence.
It will also provide social services including counselling and mediation.
The attorney general told yesterday’s gathering that his government is committed to maintaining high standards in the new Family Court that will benefit those seeking its services.
“This division created today would be headed by a presiding judge [Nicola Petra Byer] who will report to the Chief Justice. This judge will have the supporting staff to conduct her duties and my government – the Antigua and Barbuda Labour Party Government – is committed to ensuring that users of this court, in this division, will experience a dignified environment whilst conducting business with the court.”
AG Benjamin stated that the division will also be responsible for filing and receiving child maintenance.
While a single court that will deal with all family related matters is new, Minister Benjamin reminded the ceremony that the Family Court at the magisterial level has been fully operational since 2012.
“Today in the Eastern Caribbean, we are proud to be establishing the High Court Division of the Family Court. This is the final stage in the process [of] creating, I dare say, a comprehensive and complete system for handling matters at all levels.”
Chief Justice Pereira described the launch of the family Court as “a significant milestone for our judiciary”. She praised the Antigua and Barbuda government for its support, leadership and proactivity in passing legislation that will allow the court to function at its optimum.
“Antigua and Barbuda can truly boast of being the first state in the OECS grouping to host three specialist court divisions: you have the Industrial Court, the Sexual Offences Model Court, and now the Family Court of the Family Division along with the general criminal and civil divisions of the court.
“Antigua and Barbuda is leading the way for other states to follow,” Dame Janice declared.
“This launching ceremony recognises the achievement of an initiative which has been in the pipeline for quite a number of years. We no longer need to wonder whether it will happen. Today marks the commencement of this division of the court,” Dame Janice noted.
She credited those who played a part in the establishment of the Family Court and thanked international organisations that gave support and expertise.
The chief justice charged those who will work at the court and seek its services to abide by the rules that will guide its operation.
Meanwhile, the Family Court will function temporarily at its current location until work at the old parliament building, where it will be housed permanently, is completed. -POINTE XPRESS