I am honoured, and indeed humbled, to have been asked to address you today on this, the official opening of the Law Year 2023. On behalf of the Government and people of Grenada, I take this opportunity to extend best wishes to you and your families for the New Year and pray that it will be one filled with good health, prosperity, and lots of love.
Prime Minister, the Hon. Dickon Mitchell sends warm and fraternal greetings to all his colleagues in this noble profession.
Permit me to avail this opportunity to extend heartfelt congratulations, on behalf of all of us here at the Grenada Bar, to the newly appointed Justices, and to specifically applaud Justices of Appeal Price-Findlay and Ellis, both of whom had their judicial feet wet right here in Grenada.
Congratulations are also extended to the newly appointed judges and Masters, and might I again specially recognise our own, fully home grown, Justice Tamara Gill, of whom we are very proud.
In an environment where the average Caribbean citizen yearns for a more integrated and unified region, our Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court stands out as a model regional institution. The successes it has enjoyed, in the face of ever-changing and challenging circumstances, make it one of the most admired and pro-active change agents in our region today.
The successes of this court of ours would not be possible without the support of our respective governments over the years. This support comes mainly through the Offices of the Attorney Generals and Ministries of Legal Affairs and Justice.
Highlighting the work of the Ministries for Legal Affairs of the OECS Member States and Territories
Our sub-region continues to face significant global challenges due to constant and rapid economic, social, and technological changes. These challenges include the global rise in the price of food and other basic commodities, the ongoing impacts of COVID-19, the adverse impacts of climate change, unemployment, and under-employment, escalating criminal activity, cyber and other security threats.
Although the concatenation of these challenges add strain to the Court as an institution, the Court, with the support of the governments of all Member States and territories, continues to make significant advances, as it navigates the changing tides. As a collective, we must continue to work together towards institutional strengthening.
In this regard, most jurisdictions are putting the necessary legislative framework in place to make this a reality. The legislative changes will ensure the integration of the Magistracy into the Court, amendments to the Criminal Codes to permit for judge alone trials, and laws that will support the transition to a fully digitised system.
To support the digital transformation agenda of the government and Court, my government will facilitate the passage of three foundational pieces of legislation: The Data Protection Bill, the Electronic Communications Bill, and the Payment Systems and Services Bill.
The Court, supported by the respective governments, is embracing technology for greater efficiency. There is no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated our movement towards a digital, paperless court, and the launch of the E-Litigation Portal has greatly enhanced efficiency and transparency in the functions of the Court and its offices.
It also facilitates the shift to mostly virtual hearings. Digitising the operations of the Court also synchronises with the thrust of most of our countries, to move all of government’s operations to digital and paperless. In Grenada, we encourage all live matters, to be migrated to the platform as we move towards digitising our records.
In Grenada, we have also identified digital and physical transformation as key components in the effort to move our country forward. In this regard, a policy direction has been issued, applicable to all government departments, that allows for printing of no more than five (5) pages at a time.
The forward-thinking leadership Your Ladyship continues to offer has significantly impacted the operations of the offices comprising the legal complex of government. The operations of the Supreme Court have moved faster than those of the government, which should make the implementation of the government’s new policy easier.
The governments of the OECS Member States and Territories are cognisant of the fact that digital transformation must be accompanied by physical transformation. To ensure the efficient administration of justice, and to support protection of and adherence to the rule of law, the judiciary and support staff, must be adequately accommodated and well equipped.
In this regard, we are focused on providing enhanced facilities for the judiciary. In Grenada, construction of a new state-of-the-art Hall of Justice, that will incorporate environmentally friendly and renewable energy technologies, is scheduled to begin in early 2024. I know that other jurisdictions including Saint Lucia are preparing for similar initiatives.
The respective governments have continued to support the court financially; and although contributions are not always as timely as is required, the Court has been able to survive and thrive as a regional institution meeting our people’s needs.
I think as the Court evolves and matures into an even greater regional success story; our governments should consider embracing a new, more efficient method of financing the Court. The establishment of a Trust Fund, akin to that used to fund the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), might be considered. It will afford the Court true financial independence in perpetuity, and thus, greater insulation from other influences, and much-needed wriggle room to execute on its development agenda.
We are all very familiar with the day-to-day challenges, and sometimes unnecessary and avoidable hardships our judiciary has had to endure, ranging from the global issues Your Ladyship has highlighted, to greater encumbrances such as inadequate security and residential accommodation, and in some instances, late or non-payment of salaries and utilities.
An independently financed Court will eliminate these hardships, strengthen this essential and co-equal arm of government, and set us on course to elevate democracy in our region.
The Direction for the future
I submit that as we, the Ministers of Legal Affairs & Justice, endeavour to better serve the people who have elected us, it is incumbent on all of us to find new ways to support the work of the Court. In that regard, we must make deliberate efforts to invest in building the technical and human resource capacity of our respective Ministries and departments.
Continuous training of technical and support staff will help to raise the overall standard of the services we provide to the public. Most of all, we must ensure that the court offices in our respective jurisdictions are properly staffed and equipped.
In this regard, I am happy and indeed proud to disclose to the Court, that my government has begun to do just that by approving the appointment of nine (9) additional staff to the Court Office in this new fiscal year. These include an additional Deputy Registrar (specifically responsible for Deeds & Lands), a Deputy Mediation Coordinator, and a Senior Administrative Officer.
We have also secured equipment, a new location, and support staff to directly address the longstanding vexing issues of court reporting and preparing transcripts.
In his celebrated calypso ‘Caribbean Man’, the late Black Stalin reminds us, that as Caribbean people, we are: ‘one race, from the same place, that made the same trip, on the same ship’ therefore, we must forge ahead together, pushing one common intention, to improve the lives of our citizens.
As the first truly indigenous regional court, this court is a natural vehicle through which we can forge ahead to full Caribbean unity. I, on behalf of the government and people of Grenada, encourage my colleague Ministries of Legal Affairs in all the Member States and Territories, to remain resolute in our commitment to sustainable development, with equal access to justice for all.
Let us therefore continue to work together, for together we are stronger. As we endeavour to navigate the changing tides as one, we will most definitely move our region and its people forward to safe, calm waters.