Court caseload ‘almost logistically impossible’

| 12/01/2017 | 43 Comments
Cayman News Service

Chief Justice Anthony Smellie and the RCIPS contingent at the 2017 Grand Court Opening Ceremony

(CNS): The chief justice has warned that the court workload is now so great that without a new building it is verging on a “logistic impossibility” to manage the cases properly. Every year at the Grand Court’s ceremonial opening for almost a decade Chief Justice Anthony Smellie has raised the problem that the courthouse, which was built in the 1970’s, is no longer fit to handle the massive and myriad caseload. But despite a commitment by the current government to fund a new court, a business case by PricewaterhouseCoopers has presented both feasibility and affordability concerns.

The chief justice said he will propose to Cabinet that PwC go back “to the drawing board” to come up with something that can work before the courts reach crisis point.

“The consequences of the lack of court rooms and office space for the administration of justice are always apparent and cannot be ignored,” the top judge stated as he presented his annual report Wednesday. “We must do all we possibly can to avoid the situation, so lamentably commonplace in less developed countries, where people, all of them innocent until proven guilty and many of them ultimately acquitted of wrongdoing, languish in prison for unacceptably long periods of time before disposal of their cases.”

CJ Smellie denied recent allegations in the press that the courts had reached gridlock, as he praised the efforts of the judiciary, its staff and lawyers for getting through the massive and increasing workloads that come before the courts, from Court of Appeal cases down to traffic tickets. But he warned that despite those “stalwart efforts of all concerned”, the system will be in serious trouble unless the new building becomes a reality.

“These courts are increasingly hampered by the lack of certainty about available court rooms,” he said, as he pointed to the challenges presented by the lack of space for the Summary Court, where all criminal cases enter the system.

With an average of 10,000 criminal and traffic charges filed each year, in order to keep on top of the cases several sittings must be scheduled every day, he told the audience of lawyers and stakeholders attending the official opening.

“This has become almost logistically impossible,” the chief justice added, as he pointed out that cases before the Grand Court and Court Of Appeal take precedence over the Summary Courts, making the management of the list in the lower court more and more challenging.

He said that last year PwC made a business case for a building with at least ten court rooms plus ancillary offices and operational spaces, but the alternative design options all presented immediate concerns about feasibility and affordability. He said that the consultants would now be asked to develop a fourth or fifth more affordable option.

As he noted the increasingly dire circumstances, the chief justice lauded the judges, magistrates, lawyers and staff for keeping the courts going despite the massive number of cases they are dealing with in a space designed more than four decades ago.

He said that regardless of the challenges, the courts were not yet gridlocked because of the major efforts being made.

Last year the Summary Courts disposed of 1,639 criminal and some 8,860 traffic cases in Grand Cayman and 277 such cases in Cayman Brac. They also dealt with 144 cases involving youth offenders and the coroner held 53 inquests. The informal Mental Health Court disposed of 47 criminal cases and the Drug Rehabilitation Court enrolled 44 new applicants and graduated 13 rehabilitated offenders.The courts also dealt with 500 civil, family and maintenance cases.

However, he said, the “backlog court” set up by the chief magistrate was not able to tackle as many cases and the Summary Court criminal diary now has listings up to May 2017 for unrepresented defendants.

“This is at the outer limits of the recognised international norms for the disposal of Summary Court criminal cases,” he warned, noting that during the first quarter of this year the “backlog” court will resume its work.

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Category: Courts, Crime

Comments (43)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    Maybe we should look at improving our education system and lowering crimes rather than building buildings to convict them and prisons to store them afterwards.

    but then again that would reduce the costs of having so many judges and lawyers around …hmmm..let’s thrOW that suggestion out the window…we need the work permit fees…NOW THAT’S PROGRESSIVE!!!!

  2. Anonymous says:

    courts can be set up anywhere and could literally be done in any office building anywhere……
    the judiciary have an overinflated sense of their own importance…….

    • Anonymous says:

      And you have no respect for the laws that keep everything you own and are safe from the rest of humanity. This is the fundamental problem: too many people who really, truly, do not know how valuable the courts are, and why we have them, and why we have laws altogether. They represent the power of the state to punish you for violating the shared social contract. Guess when they throw you in jail you’ll be happy getting sentenced on the 3rd floor of a derelict building by a pissed off judge who has been inhaling asbestos every day? Good idea yeah? Right.

      • Anonymous says:

        Yikes, calm down. I am pretty sure 9:57 didn’t mean that building. You should have a snickers cause you’re coming off like Trump on twitter right now.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Why not build a court house close to Northward ? People going to court so close to jail my want to change their perspective in life.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Make more hours. Work a bit harder.
    Be more efficient.
    Problem solved.

    • Jotnar says:

      Night court is an interesting idea – used in the States. Of course, you have to be able to persuade the judges, lawyers and police to work night shift….

    • Anonymous says:

      Exactly, minor cases like traffic offenses etc could be done after 6:00pm. These could even be grouped together by indicating when offenders show up and handling multiple offenders in one sitting.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Wherever they decide to build another Courts building, I hope they include adequate parking for the attendees. As it stands, one risks getting a parking ticket, if a parking space can even be found! Ironic that I received a parking ticket for using a taxi parking space while I was paying a traffic fine!!

    • Anonymous says:

      This happened to me years ago. By the time I came out of the Court Fees Office, my car had a ticket just being placed under my windshield wiper by a police officer. I said thanks, I’ll go pay this one too, I trust you won’t have the nerve to put another one. Shut him up fast.

  6. Anonymous says:

    What the CJ says about space might be true but one also needs to look at statistics of the number of criminal cases coming to Court and the number of convictions recorded. There is held view that far too many nonsense cases are put forward by the DPP’s office for prosecution and that is part of the reason for some of the excessive volume in the court system. Of the 1639 criminal and 8860 traffic cases, how many of those were successful? How does that ratio compare to other countries with social and economic profiles similar to the Cayman Islands? All prospective prosecutions require both the evidential and public interest tests to be robustly determined by the DPP’s office, with a decision on whether to proceed with charges being based on the likelihood of success. The ratio of successful prosecutions would be a good gauge of whether the DPP’s office is prosecuting because they can’t be bothered with make thorough assessments or whether they are simply trying to keep busy to remain employed. Another metric that should be examined is prosecutors to the size population. The procedure in relation to police investigation of complaints and the determination of files going forward to the DPP’s office to make charging decision should also reviewed. Against some statistical analysis would be useful here as well as the process. Are police simply sending all or a majority of investigations forward of ‘nothing matters’ which prosecutors become seemingly pressured for one reason or another to charge and let the Courts decide. The affluence of this society has contributed in no small way to the problem now cited by the CJ and there is probably a need to make a critical examination of the overall criminal justice system which may not be best serving the country. Many of those 8860 traffic matters could be handled using some sort of ticketing system.

    • Anonymous says:

      I applaud your accurate comment and would add that completely inefficient internal processes and bureaucracy combined with poor staff training and resources are equally responsible for most of the backlog. The sense of self-importance of court oligarchy and the constant backstabbing and bickering with the lawyers they deal with does nothing to progress matters in a transparent and effective way.

  7. RMK says:

    Stop clogging up the court listing for the simplest matters (e.g insurance and licensing violations, speeding, consumption of ganja, etc..), fne the persons and let them pay and move on after the incident. Save only serious matters where persons have to face a Judge &/or Jury.

  8. Anon, and on and on..... says:

    Perhaps we could ask “Uncle Ken” to build us a suitable court house around Camana Bay? A chamber for our MLAs to make laws (or whatever it is we pay them to do) could follow, and then we could designate George Town as the “New Historic Capital of the Cayman Islands”. Think of the reduction in traffic congestion if the New Capital was located in “The Republic”…..

    Just a thought.

    • Diogenes says:

      Dart offered to build a new courthouse at Camana Bay years ago free of charge, as a means of encouraging law firms to take up residence there. CIG – or rather PPM – refused. Now he already has a number of law firm tenants, and that ship may have sailed. But why not ask? Because the price now will probably include sorting the dump, and in any event no Cayman politician wants to be seen to be beholden to Dart this close to an election.

      • Anonymous says:

        The Dart Organisation has far too much power here to have anything to do with our system of justice. Comments on this article continue to show a total lack of understanding that impartiality, flexibility and independence are the goals for any new court building, just as they are for the judges and staff who will work in that building.

      • Anonymous says:

        How many times do we have to point out on here Dart never had any intention to sort the dump only to move it far away from his own back yard.

    • Anonymous says:

      Same thought I have been posting on here for years. Great minds! 😉

  9. Anonymous says:

    No votes or kickbacks for building a court!

  10. MM says:

    They’re building the boxing ring though – maybe we can have summary court there?

  11. MM says:

    Use the land where tower building was to construct a new court house – 3-4 stories tall perhaps.

    And instead of Government simply tendering the building and taking the private construction companies’ word on what it will cost to build our officials should be out there checking construction material costs, current costs of labor and all expenses related to the costs themselves so that they can really know what it would cost.

    If possible – have an entire floor built and dedicated to commercial rental space, I am sure every law firm on island would want their offices in the court building – recover the expenses with these commercial real estate rentals.

    Have a licensed quantity surveyor put together a detailed, item by item report for the project because I know that whatever the local construction companies quote will be marked up 200% so that all their stakeholders can get rich quick.

    Government should also hire their own project manager who can oversee the purchase of all material and they simply outsource the labor because everyone should know that all construction companies mark-up the material costs by up to 25% and they base this markup on the actual cost of the material not even the discount they get from the supplier for being a preferred customer!

    If Gov can manage to do all these things and aim for keeping per square foot costs to CI$200 they can construct a new 30k to 40k courthouse for under CI$10mil (which is VERY possible when you manage construction projects yourself instead of pay the hundreds of thousands required for project management from our local const. companies and their ridiculous (but necessary) markups on material costs).

    Our Gov needs to start grabbing the bull by the horns and handling their countries’ issues themselves with some love and common sense instead of running to outside “policy advisers” every day!

    • Anonymous says:

      Hush nah, you make too much sense.

    • Anonymous says:

      Maybe. MAYBE the court house could go there. But I would much rather that space either become something like the Cabinet Office site in Hamilton, Bermuda (look it up), with a gate, front lawn, cenotaph and which serves as the office for the premier and cabinet through which all government policy is directed and which tourists can look at and photograph (they love this stuff, as the photo of several tourists posing with the Attorney General at this week’s court opening shows), OR, it should be a lush, green tropical park (for tourists to litter and bums to hang around at night). IF the court house goes on the Tower Building site, the current court house should be demolished, and Heroes Square enlarged to the space occupied by the court house, and its parking lot. Next comes demolishing Scotiabank too, one of the ugliest buildings in a tiny town with far too many, so we can have a larger, more dignified place and statement of national pride where a parade can be held that doesn’t have to turn heel every 10 paces.

      The Government Administration Building, whether they build a park next to it or not, has no facade in the architectural sense. It was designed as a functional building and looks like one. It gives no context or framing to anything put next to it except other functional government buildings. Tourists have no interest in Elgin Avenue, there is nothing to buy or see and moreover no one will want to use a park next to our largest police station. Elgin Avenue is for the business of government; not the dignity of it. Why don’t they put the court house where the Glass House is now and where they have spoken of creating a park, and then police and court staff can walk things over to each other? Why don’t they demolish the police station and everything behind it, which is a major source of low morale and dysfunction in the RCIPS, move them somewhere less valuable and put the court house there?

      We have one condemned building on prime land (Glass House), one cramped, dated and unfit for purpose building that has been condemned in part on more prime land (police station), one central square in town dominated by another dated building no longer fit for purpose (court house) which has prevented us from giving George Town one, just one, large public space that is truly spectacular, brings pride and joy to all residents and a focal point for tourists, one empty site of even greater value that has sat empty while government after government has dithered over what to do with it (Tower Building), the LA (which is fine, but truthfully, had to be extensively reconfigured and renovated internally almost 15 years ago just to create enough space for our parliament to function in this century), and that’s it. Just move the pieces around until they make sense! What is so hard about this?! And why is the timely administration of justice so unimportant?! We had to renovate a courtroom to hold one case! This is such a joke. The CJ’s annual plea for more space will soon rival Dennis Skinner’s annual heckling when the House of Commons is summonsed to the House of Lords for the opening of Parliament in the UK. Part of the furniture, while everyone in the judiciary and judicial administration has now been reduced to doing their jobs while saying ‘part of the ship, part of the crew, part of the ship, part of the crew’. This is becoming an international centre for the resolution of disputes that have major commercial consequences elsewhere in the world. Funds should be directed to it accordingly.

      Next year, CJ, you will have to try the only thing you have not yet tried and the only thing you would never do: lose your cool in your speech and shame the government of the day into getting it done.

  12. Anonymous says:

    I would be curious to see how many of these cases are related to consumption or possession of small amounts of cannabis, which is a complete and utter waste of time.

    Also, judging by the traffic stats, it shows that government are still relying heavily on tickets for funding and that officers may be spending most of their time dealing with petty tickets rather than focusing on robberies and gun crime etc.

  13. Anonymous says:

    Is purchasing and modifying one of the many empty office buildings downtown one of the options being considered? Moving the Courts building out of central George Town is contrary to the idea being floated of renewing and reinvigorating the capital!!

    • Anonymous says:

      Perhaps they should have a look (i.e. inspection, appraisal, etc.) into Piccadilly Square. I believe it has been, recently, advertised for sale. It is has great parking, very spacious, in close proximity to the existing Court House, Police Station, Immigration, Airport, etc.

    • Anonymous says:

      courts do not renew or reinvigorate anything…..

  14. Anonymous says:

    the judiciary and their gold-plated demands are the reason for the unaffordability…..

    • Anonymous says:

      You know the court system is the only thing between you, a momentary misjudgment and a lifetime behind bars right? Not gold-plated bars either. The judges on this island have more integrity than the politicians they beg for space so they can get people in and out of whatever trouble they may or may not be in as quickly as possible, and the lawyers who argue before them. To expect them and their staff to be buried in paper and cramped together and judges and litigants to be scurrying from one building to another just to complete a one-day hearing is ludicrous. You are obviously one of the many who does not value an impartial and well-resourced system of justice and based on your tone I would suspect you will regret your attitude when you come before a judge who is pissed off that they’ve been moved 8 times in a week with no patience to hear the reasons for your actions. The fact of the matter is, the quality of Cayman’s financial services sector, the role our courts have played in resolving many disputes arising out of the recession and the resulting increased profile which the jurisdiction has gained with even the most senior judges in the UK who now visit here regularly simply requires and demands that we have a new court house befitting our new status. Anything less would be to fail to capitalise on the reputation we are building as a centre for dispute resolution. People will not do business here if they think we do law like somewhere they elect judges or politicians hand-pick them. Our Court House should be just as grand and fit for purpose as the LA, which passes the laws the Courts have to consider, and the Government, which sends those laws to the LA and which then has to defend their application and meaning before the Courts. A court system is nothing to jam into an old, neglected, cramped building and if you think the building doesn’t matter, consider the candidates for top posts within the administration who won’t even consider jobs there because they know they’ll be working in a rabbit warren. Never mind the judges who turn down permanent posts. You don’t have a clue what you’re talking about.

      • Anonymous says:

        thanks for proving the original poster’s point…..

        • Anonymous says:

          Not sure I’ve done that when neither you nor he/she have addressed my points? Pretty sure I made my own… Can’t prove them to you, though, unfortunately. That’s the nature of fraternal professions; you’re either in them and you understand or you’re not and you don’t. How could you possibly know what judges, court staff, plaintiffs, defendants, the general public and our legal system as a whole require by way of court facilities? The Legislative Assembly was renovated and extensively reconfigured internally almost 15 years ago. It was further upgraded and polished when we voted for more self-government in 2009. Both buildings were designed by the same person and built from the same materials at the same time. Are you sure it’s the gold-plated demands of the judiciary holding up a court house and not our politicians focusing money on things that benefit them directly, or indirectly through the electoral process? Because you may recall after renovating the LA, the next thing they did is build a new Government Administration Building with five times the square footage of the Glass House. That’s two branches of our system of government upgraded in less than a decade, both controlled and inhabited by the people who decide what the public purse will be spent on. There’s your answer for why the court house has not been built. Here’s a question I now have for you: what could possibly be wrong with the third branch of government (which, by the way, has just had its independence increased through a constitutional amendment), asking for the same update, to take itself from the early 1970s into today so that it can do its equally vital and increasingly demanding role? We used to have a wooden courthouse which is now the museum; now we have what we have, and it’s been 40 years since. Tell me why that isn’t long enough in light of the changes in Cayman and the world since then and I’ll be happy to read and consider.

  15. Anonymous says:

    If the courts are wasting their time on 8,860 traffic tickets a year then change the law, make them an admin item and free up court space for the stuff that actually needs to be seen in court. I would wager 8,850 people turned up to court, said ‘guilty your honour’ and were fined. Nothing need change if you want to challenge the ticket, just get rid of the bulk items.

    • Anonymous says:

      I have been in traffic court and it seems the judges have to give a little lecture no matter how insignificant the offense. Silly, Standard violations have a printed fine. Sign the ticket, mail it along with fine to Court and leave out the sermon.

  16. Anonymous says:

    We also need judiciary and RCIPS evidence education, a habitable and larger prison, crime lab, local coroner, earlier child abuse/neglect intervention, mental health services, drug and addiction treatment, homeless care, vocational schools…and many other capabilities we might afford if we weren’t wasting funds on populist tripe, and/or wagering that those whose rights are regularly trampled won’t sue. We are now experiencing the predictable comeuppance of years and years of neglect and imprudent ostrichlike political mindsets.

  17. Anonymous says:

    They need to revise their procedural rules, particularly regarding scheduling. Also need to provide for the possibility of plea bargaining to avoid so many trials. Lastly, most traffic tickets should be handled administratively, not in the courts. Only then should they consider whether additional space is required.

    • Anonymous says:

      Anyone still thinks that laws are not being enforced.

      • Anonymous says:

        Sure. When was the last prosecution for fronting? How many illegal vendors were on Public Beach today? How many wheelie popping dirt bikes and illegally tinted cars have you seen this week? How many kids have you seen openly smoking ganja?

    • Anonymous says:

      All traffic tickets except those which are not paid are dealt with administratively. Next question please.

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