Scotia refit delay ‘unacceptable’ says CJ

| 18/01/2021 | 21 Comments
Cayman News Service
Chief Justice Anthony Smellie inspects the police contingent at Grand Court Opening

(CNS): The shortage of courtrooms to deal with criminal trials is continuing to cause serious problems for the local judicial system and Chief Justice Anthony Smellie said has called the continued delay on the work needed to refit the old Scotia Building “unacceptable”. Speaking at the opening of the Grand Court this week, the chief justice urged government to prioritise the work to turn the building it purchased more than two years ago into much needed courts.

CJ Smellie said the lack of courtrooms in which to try “serious and often very sensitive and involved” criminal cases was having a serious impact on the judicial department’s ability to dispose of cases. But more importantly, defendants were being held on remand, sometimes for years, awaiting trial, when the accepted period should be no more than six months.

But despite the problem of space, Smellie said that the renovation of the Scotia Building was not happening anytime soon.

“Just this past Monday, I was told that although the outfitting of the building for the two courtrooms will involve only internal works, this project cannot begin until summer this year,” the frustrated top judge stated. “I am sure you will all agree that this is unacceptable, faced as we are with the prospect of denying persons their constitutional right to a timely trial,” he told the audience, which included the premier and other government ministers, gathered for the annual court ceremony.

The CJ explained that 88 criminal cases are being carried over from 2020 into this year, which will join the new cases constantly being filed. Already, 22 of the defendants in these cases are in jail and have been there in some cases for years rather than months, as they wait for their day in court.

“Despite our best efforts during the COVID-19 shutdown, including being the first court in the region to resume jury trials at beginning of July, I must renew my call yet again this year for more courtrooms,” he said.

As the judiciary waits on the approval of a new courthouse, the project to renovate the Scotia Building must be “at the top of government’s priorities this year and I urge the governor, the premier and their colleagues of Cabinet to ensure that this happens,” he said.

It remains unclear why the project to renovate the former Scotiabank has not progressed, though during his address at last year’s court opening the chief justice blamed the delays on the red tape surrounding planning regulations.

The lack of suitable courts also remains a problem for the Summary Court, CJ Smellie noted. Despite the work of the magistrates and their staff, who dealt with 1,393 criminal charges, another 1,689 charges are currently pending trial.

“This kind of backlog cannot be overcome without additional courtrooms,” the chief justice said. “As I remind each year, the magistrates find themselves in the unenviable and often embarrassing situation of having to vie against the Grand Court and, when it is in session, against the Court of Appeal as well, for courtrooms, with the inevitable result that the summary criminal cases are relegated in a manner that is equality antithetical to any notion of timely justice,” he added.

The CJ also revealed in his address that the beginning of the third decade of the millennium was a “suitable milestone for the investment of the time, energy and some modest expense, for the publication of a full formal report” regarding the work of the courts. This will include a look back over the developments and achievements within the Administration since the turn of the millennium.

See the CJ’s full address in the CNS Library.

We have requested a copy of the report.


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Category: Courts, Crime

Comments (21)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    I agree it’s sad that the Scotia Bank building has just been sitting there empty!!! I would also just like to say that Scotia Bank is missed in GT, and they need to reconsider having a presence back in GT!!

  2. He has high hopes says:

    Who is doing the work? Public Works? ‘Nuff said – in good Caymanian: they soon come, “Mon”. All through government is the same story: we do not mind paying fees and charges, but let us see what our money is paying for! A convict Speaker, projects that take forever, phones that ring all day and no one answers. The lights are on but nobody’s home.

  3. Anonymous says:

    For criminal cases, I’d suggest building a brand new court building alongside the prison with a tunnel connecting the two. There’d be no more prisoner transportation issues and less traffic going towards town every day, what with judges, police, courts staff, lawyers, reporters, relatives, etc all cramming into the middle of town. The Scotia idea seems disastrous.

    In fact for the same reason I’d suggest the same for civil and appellate courts too. It might even help the economy of the Bodden Town region.

    • Anonymous says:

      yep putting the new court facility in town is another step backward for congestion on this island.
      you can only blame the aloof judiciary and their nonsensical demand that the island’s court facility should be the centre piece of the nations capital…..
      from what i have heard …the judicarrie’s gold plated demands will ensure that this project will never be completed fully.

  4. Anonymous says:

    It’s as though Smellie has not been to the DVDL.

    I’ve lost good friends to the DVDL queue. Only in 2018 in the “great relicensing queue of August”, three friends perished of old age. Two through waiting, one went insane once they’d arrived back home, speaking in tongues about new license plates.

  5. Anonymous says:

    How long has the CJ been in Cayman? He should know full well by now that when you get an estimate for building works, you need to at least double the time estimate at a minimum given from the contractor and you might get somewhere nearer to reality in terms of completion.

  6. Anonymous says:

    While on the general subject of “delay”, can anyone say why the Glass House has not been taken down yet? How many years is it going to stand empty?

  7. Anonymous says:

    Sorry Hon. CJ, but this is crap! Try stop bringing frivolous cases to the Courts, that will free-up much courtroom space! Cases such as minor traffic infractions which can be settled administratively. I know someone who was recently summoned to Court because of a minor traffic traffic infraction last summer!

    • Anonymous says:

      Absolutely right! And to bring this nonsense into the public arena is also very telling. THAT is completely unacceptable.

  8. JTB says:

    This may be true on the criminal side, but for FSD cases (which nowadays are almost exclusively heard on Zoom) the issue seems to be very much a lack of Judges.

    Of course, if the CJ could bring himself to look at non-Jamaican candidates that might help a bit.

    • Anonymous says:

      Perhaps it has occurred to him in his more than two decades as CJ that it is not good for us to be so dependent upon the same pool of UK QCs and former judges both for specialist/leading counsel and for judges? He himself proved that you do not need the specialist experience practising to be an FSD judge. I imagine he does not want his legacy to be the outsourcing of the FSD to that same group of chaps, when it started so promisingly with distinguished retired local practitioners and himself.

      • Anonymous says:

        You’ve got 7 grand court judges (if website is correct), how many rooms can they sit in at one time? This would be more plausible if they ever did something to streamline their medieval rules of procedure and practice.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Dontcha just LURVE a 5 star, world class civil service. Laugh?……I nearly bought a round!

  10. Anonymous says:

    time my friend..time…

  11. Say it like it is says:

    This is Govt not the Balboa bigwigs who plough ahead regardless of planning requirements. Given the urgency why has the conversion been put on the backburner by Planning, this is sheer idiocy. It should have been dealt with right after the purchase (was it 2 year ago?), there are no environmental issues, it is a straightforward conversion from one type of commercial usage to another both of a similar nature.The problem is those to blame will never be held accountable as this involves the public sector.

  12. Anonymous says:

    Well, I guess we need to ask ourselves…does there really need to be imported oak paneling on the walls in order to determine guilt or innocence?

  13. Anonymous says:

    nonsense by cj…there is a glut of office space in gt if they wanted to set-up temporary courtrooms.
    you could have 10 new courtroom created but you will still have the same delays due to the the judicial red-tape and general judicial incompetence.

  14. Anonymous says:

    How are we going to hold a person for months/years on end with no court hearing?

    We get tired waiting in line during lock down for a hour, now 15 min lines are to much.

    Try a few months behind bars with no foresight….

    N they call this K-Man kind

  15. Anonymous says:

    True that. Also unacceptable is the open unqualified practice of Cayman law all around the world, often in service of so called officers of this court within this jurisdiction. Also unacceptable are the widespread breaches of Cayman immigration and other regulatory laws and even misleading of regulators by some law firms. When the partners ain’t partners, and that fact is knowingly concealed, we have a problem. What a mess.

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