Understanding the Law
June 22, 2007
June Assizes

The Assizes opened on June 5, 2007, but even though it commenced on the first Tuesday of the month, as is the practice, it is no ordinary Assizes. What makes it extraordinary is the long list of criminal matters set down for hearing. The list has some 119 criminal matters for trial when a typical list carries an average of 30 matters.{{more}} This mid-year Assizes normally last for two months and ends in July as the courts vacation is fixed for the 1st day of August each year. The earlier and later Assizes, which start in February and October respectively run for longer periods. It is always difficult for a judge to complete a list of 30 matters especially if there is a murder case with more that one accused. Some matters without a doubt have to be traversed to the next Assizes. Perhaps this could account for the build up of cases.

The June List

The June list contains matters ranging from assault to murder that are dated over a period from 2003 to 2007. There are 3 matters for 2003, 11 for 2004, 36 for 2005, 42 for 2006 and 24 for 2007. The two other matters on the list are for sentencing for persons whose matters were heard in the magistrate courts in 2005 and 2006. Wounding appears to be the most frequent crime with a total of 33 of which 31 cases are wounding with intent. The other matters include: murder (20) (one being a retrial), rape (17), robbery (17), burglary (9), incest (4), manslaughter (3), forgery (3), death by reckless driving (1), assault causing actual bodily harm (2), theft (2), Drugs (1), Buggery (1), blackmail (1), intercourse with a girl under the age of 13 (3), placing of explosive (1), unlawful use of firearms (6) and arson (1). In some instances persons have been charged with more than one offence.

Simultaneous Assizes

The long list of criminal cases has led to unprecedented action. After consultation with the resident judges the Director of Public Prosecution, Mr. Colin Williams made a written request to the Chief Justice of the Eastern Caribbean States, Justice Brian Alleyne who consented to the operation of two criminal courts. These courts commenced simultaneous operation on Monday, June 11, 2007. One court is conducted in the No. 1 Court Room, down stairs the Court House and the other is upstairs where the House of Assembly is located and where civil trials are normally conducted. Both resident judges of the High Court are now conducting the trials. This means that all civil matters listed for trials have had to be adjourned. It is no doubt that this will cause quite a great deal of inconvenience to those whose matters are listed and especially if they are overseas witnesses. Criminal matters are normally given more urgency and priority is given because the liberty and freedom of citizens are involved. The new arrangement would however serve to create a backlog of civil matters.

Continuous Assizes

For a long time now suggestions have been made for continuous Assizes, that is, an arrangement for criminal trials to be conducted all year round similar to arrangement in the magisterial courts with regards to time. This would bring an end to a tradition which goes far back in time. It may also mean an end of the fixed vacation of the court. There are three fixed vacations per year: the Easter vacation, the long August vacation and the Christmas vacation. To effectively accomplish this proposal for continuous Assizes, more judges would have to be appointed.

Ada Johnson is a solicitor and barrister-at-law.
E-mail address is: exploringthelaw@yahoo.com