Understanding the Law
September 26, 2014
The new law year 2014/15

On Wednesday, September 17, the lawyers in SVG and eight other Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court (ECSC) member states marked the beginning of the new law year, with pomp and ceremony in their respective jurisdiction. In SVG the occasion was celebrated with a church service, a march from the church to the courthouse, a review of a guard of honour by the resident judge and a special sitting at the High Court building.{{more}}

The highlight of the ceremony was an address captioned “Fulfilling our strategic vision in challenging times” by Her Ladyship, the Hon. Dame Janice Pereira, the current Chief Justice of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court. In a fine honeyed voice, she gave a comprehensive account of the performance of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme court in the context of its strategic plan. The address was streamed live via simulcast from the island of Anguilla, where a sitting of the Court of Appeal took place. All across the Eastern Caribbean her audience, mainly lawyers, listened with rapt attention, as she outlined the “triumphs and challenges” of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court. It was an address that resonated with her listeners and for which she received resounding applause and high praises.

From the Chief Justice’s perspective, the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court “did not achieve as much as they had hoped for but had relentlessly pressed on in its unchanging pursuit to execute its mission and fulfill its vision even in difficult and rapidly changing times and conditions.” She thought that the Civil Procedure Rules introduced in the year 2000 “has positively impacted” on civil practices in the ECSC, but lamented about the woeful backlog of cases. She thought that there were multiple reasons for the persistence of the backlog, but the court was not daunted by any setback and has continually assessed and utilized various techniques to promote efficiency.

She called attention to the poor funding of the Court. Although the judiciary came into being under the same doctrine of separation of powers as the two other branches of government, it was not accorded the same treatment. The court in the EC receives between 0.69 per cent, (the lowest) and 1.87 per cent (the highest) of the national budget, an average of one per cent in seven of the nine member states and territories. To compound the situation, the contributions were irregular and late. The shocking revelation about poor funding was disconcerting to lawyers, as many of them voiced their disapproval of this unacceptable situation. The Chief Justice disclosed that they were able to finance some projects through the help of some external funding agencies.

The Chief Justice spoke with pride about the technological developments in the court. She disclosed that the pilot project of electronic filing was well on its way in the British Virgin Islands. Video conferencing technology is used to secure evidence from vulnerable witness and children in secure locations. It is also used by the Court of Appeal, thereby reducing the expenses of travelling. She drew attention to the video link in St Lucia between the main court room and the correctional facilities and the digital court-recording equipment for judges, masters and magistrates.

The live programme that was simultaneously streamed to each member state across the Eastern Caribbean was testimony to the fact that a court steeped in tradition was willing to embrace the latest technology. Even after the Chief Justice’s speech, live responses of the lawyers in Anguilla were available on-line. This was an improvement in making information available to everyone, so that not only lawyers, but also the public, could be informed about the work of the court. We hear so much from the other branches of government; it is only fair that the public know about the functioning of the court.

Ada Johnson is a solicitor and barrister-at-law.

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