The Chief Justice of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court(ECSC), Dame Janice Pereira, in an address during the opening of the law year this week, highlighted the delay of production of transcripts causing adjournments.
“Another deficiency made more acute by the COVID-19 pandemic is the undue delay in the production of transcripts of proceedings across our member states and territories,” she said during her address, delivered under the theme “The ECSC: Reimagining the justice system in the era of COVID-19 and beyond.”
The start of the law year 2022 was marked by a virtual special sitting which was opened by Vincentian Senior Bailiff, Rodwell Alexander.
It was streamed live by UWItv.
The Chief Justice spoke at length on many topics to do with the improvements that have taken place and still ought to take place with regard to the functioning of the ECSC in service to all its Member States and territories.
“In presiding over the Court of Appeal, I observe that far too many civil and criminal matters must be adjourned due to unavailability of transcripts,” she stated.
Pereira noted that many end up completing their sentences before their appeals are heard, due to the lack of transcripts.
“In such cases the crown often takes the judicious course of conceding the appeal with the default position on sentence being time served.”
“These delays, on any view, amount to a gross denial of justice. This situation ought not to become normalised and no-one should treat it as acceptable. It is not,” she emphasised.
The Chief Justice said that there are solutions to this issue, which come given that we are now living in a digital age.
“While I appreciate that not much can be done about matters of some vintage, it is possible that as courts become more electronically driven the use of real-time transcripts can become commonplace.”
She added that many of the digital platforms in use to facilitate remote hearings have this feature built in.
“The legislative framework across the states and territories simply need to catch up with this reality and recognise these electronic formats as official records of court proceedings are helpful.”
Therefore, she urged Heads of Government to enact the legislation that would enable the use of electronic transcripts.
“I recognise that some may argue that putting such systems in place will come at a cost. However, if it is thought that it is costly, then I ask you to think about the alternative. The inevitable weakening of the justice system and the immeasurable harm to the rule of law,” she stated.
The Chief Justice commended St Lucia, Antigua and Barbuda and Montserrat, countries which have already taken steps towards implementing such legislation to make digital preparation of transcripts a reality.
“The other States and Territories ought to now pick up the pace. It is simply inexcusable for a litigant to be delayed access to justice for the sole reason that a transcript of proceedings has not yet been prepared,” Pereira said, adding, “This is most certainly an unjustified limitation on access to the courts and it cannot be permitted to continue.”
She acknowledged that the move to real-time production of transcripts may take some time and needs support from all stakeholders to bear fruit.
“It must be given due priority as it is an essential feature of any modern justice system,”she pointed out.