Lack of lawyers and space fuel crime case backlog

| 17/01/2019 | 28 Comments
Cayman News Service

Chief Justice Anthony Smellie inspects the police contingent at the 2019 Opening of the Grand Court

(CNS): The backlog of criminal indictments carried over from 2018 into this year is the largest ever, Chief Justice Anthony Smellie told the Cayman Islands legal profession Wednesday at the annual opening of the Grand Court. Cases are not being disposed of due to shortages of both space and defence lawyers willing to take on legal aid clients, the top judge said, as he warned that the caseload was about to overwhelm the judicial system. With government’s acquisition of the Scotiabank building and plans to transform it into a modern court facility, CJ Smellie said the “first order of business” at that site would be a new courtroom to provide space for more trials.

With a growing panel of international as well as home-grown Grand Court judges willing to sit on criminal matters, the two main sticking points when it comes to the backlog is space and attorneys.

The new court in phase one of the Scotiabank building redevelopment has been earmarked for the Court of Appeal and as a Grand Court trial venue, the chief justice said. However, the criminal division urgently needs at least three more courtrooms “to ensure that the Summary Courts, as well as the Grand Court, can continue to dispense justice in these cases in a timely manner”. he noted.

Warning that this is not the only impediment to the growing backlog of criminal cases, CJ Smellie pointed to a “perennial shortage of experienced practitioners at the criminal bar”. He said that from more than 800 lawyers called to the Cayman Islands bar, there are only 27, of varying levels of experience, who are willing to accept legal aid criminal briefs.

“While this number has increased in recent years beyond the 12 or 15 stalwarts of the past, it is not sufficient to ensure representation for all defendants,” he said. “The result is that nowadays, the Summary Courts are required all too often to postpone trials because lawyers are engaged either before the Grand Court or, when in session, the Court of Appeal.”

Illustrating the problem, the chief justice explained how the judge presiding over a forthcoming corruption trial that involves a dozen defendants has made the decision to divide it into two cases to ensure that there are enough lawyers to represent all the defendants, so as not to paralyze the rest of the system.

Legal aid rates, among other challenges, are causing this lack of willing attorneys to handle the growing caseload, he acknowledged.

Erik Bodden, who was representing the interim president of the Cayman Islands Legal Practitioners Association, delivered an address on behalf of the new legal association. He said that many lawyers at smaller firms or sole practitioners are struggling.

“They are disproportionately subject to the pressure of ever-increasing costs of doing business, of effectively marketing their services and the limitations of our legal aid regime and rates. They also need increasing support with training and development in order to navigate the increasingly complex regulatory environment,” he said, giving an indication as to why that the number of lawyers needed to meet the increasing caseload is nowhere near sufficient.

The chief justice described the number of outstanding indictments as “alarmingly high” and said they were about to overwhelm the system.”One-hundred and forty-seven indictments were carried over from last year,” he said in an overview of the courts’ business for 2018 and what was coming in the year ahead.

“This is the largest number ever carried over and 20 more than the 127 carried over to 2018. The number of indictments concluded, at 71, was about on par with previous years but when taken with the ever-increasing numbers which are filed each year, explain the unrelenting increase of the backlog,” he added.

While the financial and civil courts and the Court of Appeal are all on track and up to global standards regarding caseload disposal, the criminal courts are lagging way behind, and the Cayman Islands’ top judge said that the “obvious and only answer is to increase the rate of disposal”. But even after building up the judicial capacity to meet the challenge, space and lawyers remain significant challenges, he noted.

The shortage of lawyers who work criminal cases, who now must also work as duty solicitors at the police station to protect the rights of those arrested, have mountainous caseloads, which are growing all the time while their ranks are not.

Criminal legal aid attorneys regularly bounce from the police station, to Summary Court, up to Grand Court and the Court of Appeal, as they must give precedence to the higher courts, then bouncing back down to family and juvenile courts, as well as traffic and inquest hearings, all while receiving the lowest pay of all lawyers on the islands.

See more pictures of the opening on the CIG Facebook page

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Category: Local News

Comments (28)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    May God help us. People don’t be fooled. One thing Cayman is not short of is lawyers! Have you seen each Month how many lawyers are getting authorized to work in Cayman??? The problem here is that: most are on extended VACATION.

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  2. Anonymous says:

    Here’s the thing. If they’d stop with the ridiculous leniency, recidivism would rapidly decline and the backlog would quickly clear itself. Let’s see the stats on how many of those clogging up the courts are repeat customers.

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  3. Anonymous says:

    It doesn’t take a genius to work out that when you pay legal aid rates that are 1/5 of the going commercial rate very few people are prepared to accept the work. Particularly when the (vast) overheads are exactly the same whether you act for hedge funds at commercial rates or people accused of crime at the artificially low legal aid rates.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Lack of Lawyers??? Why don’t they hire the Caymanians that have come out of Law School!!!!

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    • Anonymous says:

      Because, if you’re facing 10, 15 or 40 years in prison you don’t want someone just out of law school (any law school) defending you.

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      • Anonymous says:

        Hmmm..but the young overseas lawyers just out of Law school can handle these cases?

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        • Anonymous says:

          Not true. And in any event any young lawyer from overseas would have had at least 4 years of experience doing these cases, under close supervision from experts, first. That’s simply not an option for young lawyers here unless they go overseas for several years first.

          Which they don’t want to do as they can make more money, more easily, doing commercial work in Cayman…

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          • Anonymous says:

            Actually, they do not do it because the firms only pretend to train them while continuing to get work permits whenever they need “experience and expertise.”

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      • Anonymous says:

        Then stop being a repeat criminal!

        • Anonymous says:

          That has nothing to do with someone who wants an experienced lawyer, thats what you studied for now handle the bullshit that comes with it.

    • Anonymous says:

      The opportunities for advancement and good money aren’t in these areas of law tbh. A private practice litigator makes way more and can get on the path to partnership. Also, out of law school still required post grad training and articles so the process is longer than that.

      If they want to attract Caymanians they have to start reaching out to law students to garner interest. The big firms court law students from the time they start law school (some before) so they are put on scholarship and are supported throughout their academic journey to qualification. That doesn’t exist in legal and they should be doing more to attract interest.

    • Anonymous says:

      New graduates feel they ‘know it all’, wanting to be at the top without learning procedures and systems.

      • Anonymous says:

        Older employees feel they know all the procedures and systems and don’t need to know anything else.

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  5. Anonymous says:

    But, Let’s increase the population 10 fold. “Our premiers logic”

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  6. Anonymous says:

    Doesn’t it have more to do with the number of criminals than a shortage of lawyers and space?

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  7. Anonymous says:

    The powers that be think thst if they throw them in Northward they won’t have to deal with them for awhile. I do not agree that young persons should be smoking ganja but putting them in jail for it, where apparently they can get it easily makes no sense.

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  8. Anonymous says:

    There should be no crime in a village size country. Something at the core is seriously wrong.

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  9. Anonymous says:

    Maybe the CIG should stop shoveling all of our legal resources into financial services
    and then turning around and contracting law enforcement posts to non-citizens

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  10. Anonymous says:

    This is an indictment on the leadership of our country. We know have 4 buildings, maybe more that we are using for courts and an overpopulated jail..

    It is time that the focus is shifted towards education and job placement. We are losing generation after generation and this has to stop. I saw a bumper sticker the other day that said a Caymanian is an “endangered species”…It could not have been said better. Years ago, we taught trades in middle and high school but now it is just a “free for all” and get them “graduated” whether they now anything or not… Where does it stop? I say for the next ten years make an associates degree free at UCCI if they don’t leave to go overseas to school…

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  11. Anonymous says:

    How about making possession of small amounts of ganja a misdemeanor and just issue a ticket. Naw that makes too much sense.

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    • Anonymous says:

      Any crime, even those associated with something as common as ganja, represents a fraction of the total number of cases. It makes sense to do what you suggest, but like many other things I suspect I will read here as suggestions, it doesn’t even begin to fix the entirety of the problem.

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      • CWE says:

        You see “arrested for possessing an oz of ganja” on the compass every week like it’s some big accomplishment.. not trying to discredit the great role that the RCIPS plays in our community but we’re ruining people’s lives for what?

        We have a tobacco cigar rolling company locally but can’t grow cannabis for personal use? Why..?

        The most dangerous part about cannabis is simply being caught with it. It’s the person, not the plant. I relax after work with a cup of tea of tea instead of going to a bar and DUI. I’m not part of the lazy generalization many like to make. I feel calm, can smile and have actually have an appetite. Please stop criminalizing me for my natural antidepressant 🙁

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        • Anonymous says:

          5.25pm I AGREE!!!!! Thisclogging up the system with these people doing a little weed has to stop. Ruining people lives for what???? When the BIG shots are doing what????

  12. Anonymous says:

    If only they enforced the immigration laws of this country, it would all be so much better, including for productive expats that want to call Cayman home.

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    • Anonymous says:

      So with you on that. But we live in a legal and regulatory environment of positive discrimination and things don’t look to change any time soon.

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