The January 2020 Assizes commenced last week Tuesday with a total of 181 matters on the Cause List.
The assizes got underway one day after the historic ceremonial opening of the New Law Year of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court (ECSC), which was traditionally held every September.
Once again, sexual offences continue to dominate the category of criminal offences before the court with a total of 84 matters up for adjudication.
Data obtained from the Office of the Director of Public Prosecution shows a total of 26 new matters coming up from the Magistracy for adjudication in the Assizes, with 10 of them comprising sexual matters.
Homicide is the second largest category with a total of 32 matters involving murder, manslaughter and death by dangerous driving.
These figures reflect an overall increase of 22 matters compared to the 162 recorded in the September 2019 session, which concluded last December with the completion of only 18 matters.
The case involving 19-year-old Twely Joseph, who was found guilty of Capital Murder in connection with the 2017 death of 8-year-old Ariel Bolah of Frequente, St. George and Hayden Phillip, 35, who has been found guilty of rape, housebreaking and robbery with violence in a matter dating back to 2014, are among nine of the completed matters still pending sentencing in this court session.
Acknowledging challenges brought on by insufficient judges and the lack of proper court facilities, Director of Public Prosecution (DPP), Christopher Nelson QC, expressed “hope” that progress can be made in this Assizes, with the recent addition of two new judges to the Bench.
“I hope we can make some progress in this assizes,” he said in an interview with THE NEW TODAY newspaper.
Addressing the opening of the 2020 Law Year, which was simultaneously broadcasted digitally to ECSC member states from the island of St. Lucia, Chief Justice, Dame Janice Pereira stated that Grenada along with St. Lucia and Antigua & Barbuda “remain the busiest jurisdictions in terms of cases filed.”
However, Dame Janice noted that the courts in Grenada were unusable for most of last year, contributing to a significant amount of backlog.
The Chief Justice used the opportunity to once again call on ECSC governments to do their part to provide the infrastructure necessary for the effective functioning of the court, stating that “as we enter a new decade, we still face a crippling problem of inadequate physical court facilities in this region”.
Dame Janice expressed dissatisfaction with the fact that “judicial officers and court staff are expected to work and the public (are) expected to conduct court business in buildings that have not been designed to accommodate the court – buildings with air quality issues, buildings in ill-suited locations and buildings without proper accessibility.”
She said: “Every year, since I’ve been Chief Justice…I have sung the same refrain – indeed Chief Justices before me have done the same. I have implored on governments to do their part to provide suitable and adequate court facilities and to fulfill their mandates to the judicial branch of government – after all it is a co-equal branch of government. It is time to stop making promises but rather to fulfill them.”
The Chief Justice pointed out that the time has come for more to be done by governments to support the court system.
“It is time that attention is paid to the courts and the indispensable function they perform rather than the treatment endured year after year, year after year…I am heartened that discussions and some introductory work towards the establishment of a Trust Fund for the court has begun but it is time that the governments set about constructing proper Halls of Justice. You the people deserve proper court facilities,” Justice Pereira declared.
Resident High Court Judge, Madam Justice Paula Gilford echoed the Chief Justice’s sentiments stating that “the last year has been the most challenging” for the judiciary, noting that even with the introduction of the Clico building “court staff continue to work under strained conditions.”
Responding to the Chief Justice’s utterances, acting Attorney General, Guyana-born Darshan Ramdhani, announced that he “is engaged in discussions that would hopefully see us at the end in a few months” with plans for a Hall of Justice.
“We have been examining proposals over the weekend from various consultants for projects that we are looking into on the government side (and) the Halls of Justice is one of them. It is hoped that an announcement can be made soon,” he said.