Understanding the Law
August 20, 2004
The High Court

The High Court has both civil (private right) and criminal jurisdiction. In its civil jurisdiction the judge sits without a jury on a wide range of
matters including contract, tort and real property among others.{{more}}
The High Court follows the procedures set down in the new Civil Procedure Rules 2000 or that stipulated by a particular act. The substantive law is provided by statutes, the constitution and the common law. It has originating jurisdiction in divorce, matrimonial causes, bankruptcy, admiralty and prize, contentious probate and constitutional matters.
The judge hears petitions and applications in chambers in the presence of counsel and the parties and conducts trials in open court where the public is allowed.
The High Court deals with matters exceeding the value of six thousand dollars ($6,000). Under the law it may award damages, costs and interest, make declarations or provide remedies to the successful party. It is empowered also to give equitable relief.
In the criminal court, charges are preferred on indictment for offences that would require more than one year imprisonment, a fine exceeding one thousand dollars ($1,000) or the death penalty. The accused is required to plead guilty or not guilty and he uses this right at his arraignment on the first day of the criminal assizes.
If he pleads guilty the Director of Public Prosecution will recite the facts of the case and sentence will be passed immediately or at a later date. If he pleads not guilty the court will try the case at a later date. Criminal assizes are held three times per year starting in February, June and October. Trials may extend from two to three months.
The trial judge in the criminal court has jurisdiction to try a person charged with offences such as wounding, rape, theft, buggery, burglary, robbery, conspiracy, treason, high treason, genocide and murder among others. The judge guides the proceedings, advises on law and passes sentences. The jury hears the evidence and decides whether the accused is guilty or not.
Punishments of fines, imprisonment or death may be imposed. In addition the convicted person may be required to pay compensation or forfeit articles involved in the crime. He may be subjected to a supervision order or he may be given a suspended sentence. In passing sentence the judge will consider mitigating and aggravating factors. If the judge finds the mitigating factors more persuasive then the full sentence might not be imposed.
The Criminal Code, Chapter 124 of the Laws of St. Vincent and the Grenadines sets out most of the offences and punishments in the criminal court. Others are set out in specific acts. The Criminal Procedure Code sets out the procedure that the court must follow.
Section 3 of the Criminal Code allows the court to use the same principles of legal interpretation as that used in England. {{more}}Where the Criminal Procedure Code fails to prescribe procedures in respect of any matter, the procedures observed by the Crown Court in England will be used.
The common law also provides a body of laws (case laws) derived from judicial decisions (rather than from statutes or the constitution). The High Court is bound by the decisions of the higher courts and must make decisions in accordance with established precedents.