Judges and Lawyers of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court, meeting in Anguilla, have been told about the need to work towards reducing the delay in trial matters getting through the court system to ensure the proper administration of justice for citizens.
The timely advice has come from the Rt Hon Sir Dennis Byron, President of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) and former Chief Justice of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court. He was at the time delivering the keynote address at a Gala Dinner at Italia Restaurant at CuisinArt Golf Resort & Spa on Saturday, September 13. The event was one of the climaxing activities of a three-day Regional Law Conference of the OECS Bar Association, now observing its 25th Anniversary.
Sir Dennis, who appealed for support for the Caribbean Court of Justice, also called for support for initiatives of the Chief Justice of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court, Dame Janice Pereira, to speed up cases before that Court.
“The loudest complaint from the public is it is taking too long for their disputes to be resolved,” he stated. “I want to suggest that the Bar should utter loudly its support for the idea that information technology and business techniques should be fully embraced in the work of our judiciaries.”
Sir Dennis stressed the need for the use of electronic documents in the court process. “After all, why should this be a problem?” he went on. “All of you already communicate with the court in general correspondence by email…What’s the difference in using that same process for filing and service for all of your court records? It can have so many benefits – it can save a lot of money; it can save a lot of time. It can help the court and you to manage information better.”
The CCJ President reported that since he was in Anguilla that one of the Queen’s Counsel, “with the loudest voice, complained that proceedings are sometimes delayed because of the difficulty in locating court files when required.” Sir Dennis suggested that such problems could be dealt with by having electronic documents instead.
He noted that the Chief Justice had recently issued a practice direction to provide e-filing and e-service in the British Virgin Islands. “Don’t you think that if she heard from your Bar that you were ready for this…that you wouldn’t get a practice direction the next day? It is time for the Bar to talk about it and give the assurance that you are ready to move forward in this direction,” Sir Dennis said.
He also suggested that there was a need to look at how court proceedings were recorded – something that the various island Judiciaries and the Governments that financed them should take on. “I think the time has reached where we should be moving towards having a digital recording of the court proceedings as the official court transcript,” he continued. “Many courts in the region already have tape recorders so the technology is there…I am saying to go one step further and make it the official transcript to minimise the requirement of transferring the electronic recording to paper file. This would save so much time and improve efficiency. It would take away one of the major reasons for delay in the appellate process…It would also have other benefits. It will speed up the trial process by about three times and would free up the Judge to pay more attention to the environment of the place.”
He thought it would also allow litigants and lawyers to have greater access to the proceedings of the court which would probably be more complete and accurate.
Sir Dennis also urged the judiciaries and lawyers to increase the use of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) whereby mediation would be a continued means of settling cases before they go for trial in court. “I know that the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court has been having a successful run with…mediation at least to some extent, but I also know that the Chief Justice is contemplating, in the use of rules, to make it compulsory. Just from a point of logic, if she feels the need to make it compulsory, it means everybody is not doing it up to now so she is going to have to compel it.”
He knew that ADR was working better in some jurisdictions than in others, and thought that the OECS Bar could support the Chief Justice by publicly expressing support for such an initiative and making it a constant and successful undertaking.
Earlier, as mentioned above, Sir Dennis suggested that the OECS Bar Association should be vocal in its support for the Caribbean Court of Justice to which direction all Governments of the Eastern Caribbean have signalled their intention to move. “I think if the Bar Association were to express and assure the public of their support for this movement, it would go a long way to ensuring that there is a continued and growing public trust and confidence in this move that the Governments have signalled their intent to take.”
During the Gala Dinner, four “Founding Fathers” of the OECS Bar Association were honoured and awarded: Mr Kenneth Allen QC who served as President of the Montserrat Bar Association for 30 years; Mr John Benjamin QC who was called to the Bar 33 years ago and a Past President of the Anguilla Bar Association; Mr Tapley Seaton CVO, QC of St Kitts who was called to the Bar 38 years ago and a Past President of the OECS Bar Association; and Mr Theodore Hobson QC, also of St Kitts, who has over 50 years at the Bar and is a former Vice President of the Commonwealth Caribbean Bar Association. Only Mr Benjamin and Mr Hobson found it possible to attend. The awards for the two absent awardees were accepted on their behalf by other persons. The presentation of the awards was done by Ms Yvette Wallace, Secretary of the OECS Bar Association and President of the Anguilla Bar Association.
Meanwhile, the late Dr Joseph Archibald, a national of St Kitts who was serving in Tortola, was honoured for being both a Founding Father of the OECS Bar Association, uniting lawyers of the sub-region; the most active of the longstanding members of that Association with 25 years of unbroken service; and the most significant contributor to the OECS Bar Association’s Benevolent Fund, now renamed the Dr Joseph S Archibald Benevolent Fund. He was also honoured by the launch of the Joseph S Archibald QC Memorial Award for law students at the University of the West Indies; and the Joseph S Archibald Lecture. This segment of the Gala Dinner event was presided over by Mr Ruggles Ferguson, President of the OECS Bar.
As part of the event, the Judges and Lawyers were entertained by two popular groups of Anguilla – the Mayoumba Folkloric Theatre and Boss & the Horsepower Band.