The Eastern Caribbean Supreme (ECSC) Court held a special sitting on January 10, to mark the opening of the 2023 law year.
This year’s special sitting was under the theme: “Navigating the changing tides”, and members of the legal profession from across the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean Sates (OECS) joined the conference from their different territories via the zoom platform.
Chief Justice, Dame Janice Pereira who delivered the feature address, and other distinguished speakers from the inner and utter bar addressed the sitting based on the theme.
During her address, the Chief Justice said that the theme for this year recognises the resilience of the ECSC and its enduring commitment to reforming its processes and procedures and broadening the avenues by which the people of the sub-region can access justice.
“In reflecting on changes over the past year, I cannot help but recall the popular saying, the difference between stumbling blocks and stepping stones is how you use them”.
The court marked its 55th anniversary on February 27, 2022 and the Chief Justice said that the anniversary celebrations were well received and have set the stage for a progressive law year and more building blocks for a progressive future.
She added that, throughout the Supreme court’s 55 years of existence, it has made a significant contribution to the development of the OECS sub-region, has made its mark on the jurisprudence of the English speaking Caribbean, and remains a pillar for the rule of law in the region and in the world.
Dame Janice also spoke about phase two of the electronic litigation portal that began last year, noting that a considerable part of the mandate of improving access to justice is the development of a digitally driven court system.
“We live in an era where technology sets the stage for our very existence. It impacts every facet of our daily lives, like law. Having recognised the real benefits to be gained from the use of modern information communication technologies.
“The court has been actively pursuing the integration of these technologies into its everyday operations,” the Chief Justice said.
This second phase of the electronic litigation portal began last year and is ongoing.
It is also a further step towards integration of the magistracy into the judiciary. Justice Pereira said the process of integration is something that must happen, that the courts exist for the purpose of delivering justice and there should be no distinctions or impairments legally or otherwise.
“ It is time that this lack of progress of full integration of the magistracy be addressed once and for all. The ECSC however, is doing what it can to facilitate the integration process, and to date some progress has been made,” the Chief Justice said.
The E- Litigation portal has also helped to navigate the challenges that are being faced due to the COVID-19 pandemic as courts have conducted sittings virtually.
Justice Pereira also highlighted that steps are being taken to introduce a framework for mediation in appropriate criminal matters. She said the programme is being designed to meaningfully impact on child and youth justice throughout the jurisdiction.
In addition, it critically aims to introduce diversionary measures for children and youth in conflict with the law.
“These measures are now needed in our societies more urgently than ever before,” the Chief Justice pointed out.
She said it is expected that a criminal mediation programme will foster greater utilisation of restorative justice practices in the Member States and Territories, noting that a regime of punishment is not always the answer.
Rather, a restoration of broken, young lives ensures a more positive and lasting benefit to society.
“We hope to see a reduction in the rates of youth offenders, as well as youth recidivism benefiting our small island state societies in more ways than one.
“The implementation and sustainability of this programme will need the full support of our government’s financial and other resources,” the ECSC head added.
She said she believes the overall gains to be derived from the system far outweighs the financial capital inputs.
“I think of it more as a capital reallocation,” she said.
Justice Pereira added that there are several measures aimed at promoting public confidence in the justice system that have been implemented over the past few years.
She said that they have published sentencing guidelines, which add transparency to the sentencing process. There was also a revised code of Judicial Conduct to incorporate modern ethical standards and time standards for the delivery of judgements by judicial officers.