Technological advancements, swift and cost effective measures in the administration of justice are some of the major highlights coming out of the special sitting held at the High Court of Antigua and Barbuda to mark the opening of the Law Year 2018-2019.
In her address Hon. Janice Pereira Chief Justice of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court said despite setbacks faced by the court during the 2017 Hurricane Season, the Court of Appeal still managed to show its resilience through partnership with each member state and by the use of technology which enabled the operations to be continuous despite huge challenges.
The Chief Justice said that the ability of the court to hear cases from other member states despite the physical state of some Courts as a result of hurricane damages must be seen and guarded as most useful as it provided uninterrupted access to justice even in times of disaster. She added that this framework should be recognized as a strong foundation on which to build, ensuring access to justice by the implementation of systems which can effectively manage and support the courts operations in any adverse condition.
Justice Pereira mentioned that Sentencing Guidelines will be established, to promote fairness and transparency in the sentencing process. A Sexual Offence Model Court will be established. Antigua and Barbuda will be used as a model location. It will be operationalized before the end of 2018 and is being spearheaded by The Jurist Project executed through the Caribbean Court of Justice.
The Judicial education institute continue to provide education for newly appointed judges, magistrates and staff of court, this Justice Pereira noted is critical to the administration of justice. She said “Judicial reform and judicial education go hand in hand, one cannot succeed without the other”.
A Harmonized Revised Fees System, has been brought on stream where it will allow persons to pay for filing fees by modern methods. “This will help to place the court in the best position to realize one of courts key objective which is bringing the court into the 21st by the utilization of efiling and enhance electronic case management, allowing for speedy classification and case scheduling as to bring to the court systems an unheralded level of efficiency” Justice Pereira said.
The Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court also launched the E- litigation Portal. This portal will be accessible by all member states. The Chief Justice also highlighted that the structure of the funding of the Court should adopt the similar model of that of the Caribbean Court of Justice. This will avoid having the court being depended on government for contributions and will give the judiciary more independence and will lead to complete separation of the Executive and the Judiciary.
The Attorney General the Hon. Steadroy Cutie Benjamin during his presentation said he is very pleased with the modern approach the court will be taking with this new initiative. He added that work will be done this year to strengthen the legal architecture and frame work to ensure the fair and timely delivery of justice within Antigua and Barbuda.
Benjamin mentioned that he will dialogue with the Prime Minister on raising the issue of a Trust Fund among the PM’s Colleagues Heads of Government to fund the operations of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court. Funding is one of the challenges facing the OECS Supreme Court. The governments are indebted to the court to the tune of several millions of dollars which negatively impact the Courts operations.
He further mentioned that during this court year the Crown Prosecution Service will be operationalized. The Family Court will also be constructed shortly in the twin island state as the government make funds available to effect its construction.
The AG mentioned the some members of the Caribbean Community Secretariat will be visiting Antigua in October where they will explore the feasibility of opening a model Drug Treatment Court on island.
Benjamin added that this country is focused on delivering effective justice services to all.
Director of Public Prosecution Anthony Armstrong and President of the Bar Association also made brief presentations.
The theme this year for the Opening of the 2018-2019 Law year is, “Challenges, Opportunities and Resilience: The ECSC paving the way to a modern and efficient judiciary for the Eastern Caribbean.