Understanding the Law
August 13, 2004
The Judiciary

The system of government in St. Vincent and the Grenadines subscribes to the doctrine of separation of powers. This dictates the division of governmental authority into three branches – the executive, legislative and judicial, each with specific duties on which neither of the other branches could encroach. {{more}}The legislature enacts the law; the executive effects and enforces the law while the judiciary interprets the law and administers justice.
The judiciary interprets the law and administers justice through an array of courts and judicial officers. The magistrate courts (including the Family and the Serious Crimes Courts) constitute our first instance or lower courts. At the higher level is the master’s court which conducts case management conferences. Then there are the High Court and the Court of Appeal in that order. The High Court and the Court of Appeal constitute parts of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court. The highest and final court of appeal is the Privy Council which is based in England. Preparations are being made to replace the Privy Council with the new Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) as the final court of appeal.
Magistrate courts and the High Court have civil and criminal jurisdiction. In the civil court matters are brought by individuals, companies and the Attorney General (on behalf of the government) against others. In its criminal jurisdiction, actions are initiated in the name of the Commissioner of Police in the Magistrate Court and by the Crown in the High Court against the accused. Appeals from both courts are made directly to the Court of Appeal. Certain matters from the Family Court could be referred to the High Court.
Under its criminal jurisdiction, matters in the magistrate court are decided summarily by a magistrate without a jury (except in the case of a Coroner’s inquest where there is a jury). In the High Court charges on indictment are dealt with by a judge assisted by a jury.
Specific matters of a hybrid nature are triable either ways. However, a determination as to which court should adjudicate has to be done initially. If when a hybrid matter is done summarily the facts reveal that the court cannot impose the appropriate sentence then the accused would be committed to the High Court for sentencing.
The Chief Justice is the head of the judiciary and chairman of the Judicial and Legal Services Commission in the Organization of the Eastern Caribbean States (OECS). When the Chief Justice sits on the Court of Appeal to decide cases or when he makes rules in relation to the jurisdiction and procedure for the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court, he is assisted by two other judges. When he deals with administrative matters he is assisted by the Judicial and Legal Services Commission (JLSC).
The JLSC is responsible for the appointment and dismissal of officers such as judges, magistrates, masters, registrars, and judicial officers in the offices of the Attorney General and the Director of Public Prosecution. The members of the JLSC are drawn from the OECS.

• Ada Johnson is a retired Registrar of the Court.