Chief Magistrate of St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG), Rechanne Browne delivered the address on behalf of Magistracy of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) at a Special Sitting to mark the opening of the new Law Year of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court, on January 10.
Browne began her speech by highlighting that the Magistrates Court is fundamental to the administration of justice in the Eastern Caribbean.
“I was looking at the local prison statistics from a recent year the other day, and I noticed that 231 of the inmates were sentenced by the Magistrate’s Court. By contrast, just 116 inmates was sentenced by the High Court. This reflects a ratio of almost exactly 2-1,” she said.
The SVG Chief Magistrate said she also believes that a similar ratio will be found in the other jurisdictions of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court (ECSC).
Browne added that the Magistrates Courts are on the front line of the judicial system and they must be given care and attention if it is to be true to the process of strengthening the administration of justice in the sub-region.
“In other words, to strengthen justice, we must strengthen the magistracy,” Browne pointed out.
In considering the theme for the opening of the new Law Year- “ Navigating the Changing Tides,” Browne said that the tides have certainly changed on account of the COVID-19 pandemic.
She noted as commendable that the pandemic did not derail the Courts from their journey to justice.
“ We found creative and innovative ways to continue to conduct hearings and trials in the interest of justice and minimise disruption to the court…”
The Chief Magistrate also commended the Magistrates Courts across the sub-region for the remarkable resilience they showed throughout the pandemic. She noted that the magistrate court in Dominica was closed for only six weeks in 2020, and two weeks in 2021.
She described the court as being exemplary in persevering and protecting access to justice.
Browne highlighted some the challenges faced in St. Vincent and the Grenadines during the past two years and said, “we persevered through the storms until the ultimate judge in our vessel said, peace be still”.
She also said, “we were never prepared to compromise on delivering fair and judicious outcomes for citizens.”
The SVG Chief Magistrate said despite a preference for in person sittings the value of online innovation with respect to some aspects of court practice was recognised.
She hopes to see progress on fundamental matters such as security of tenure and the regionalization of the magistracy.
“I believe that it is necessary to address the problem of the prevalence of gun related crimes through legislate to intervention,” she also told legal colleagues at the Special Sitting.