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Justice cannot be quarantined – Pereira

Justice cannot be quarantined – Pereira
CHIEF JUSTICE Janice Pereira

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While the buzzword in the management of Covid-19 is “quarantine”, justice cannot be quarantined as the pandemic has not brought an end to conflicts.

So said Chief Justice Dame Janice M Pereira, the first female justice of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court (ECSC), as she addressed the opening of the 2021 law year of the ECSC last week.

The Chief Justice’s address was themed “The Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court, managing the Covid quake,” to reflect “the court’s resilience in the face of an unfamiliar world”.

She used the opportunity to provide an update on last year’s progress by the court, and issues that need attention.

Pereira made the point that with natural disasters such as super Hurricanes Irma and Maria, there may at least be an idea of when normalcy will return to operations, and some measures of protection may be put in place.

“The Covid-19 pandemic, on the other hand, has been much like an unpredictable, global earthquake which has turned our notions of normalcy and reality, upside down, with universal, far reaching, social and economic consequences,” she revised.

It has impacted every aspect of life, and forced an acceleration of our lives in the digital world.

“This pandemic required the court, much like any other institutions to find its way through the maze as the new reality set in,” Pereira admitted.

Their concern was providing and ensuring access to justice in the new environment.

“We had to wrap our minds around adapting and doing so rapidly,” the Chief Justice explained.

A saving grace, the ICT transformation program was on a path to completion before the pandemic set in although “moving at a slower pace”. The situation forced a ramping up of the pace, and the need to find solutions to weather the crisis.

She also noted, “While the buzzword in the management of Covid is ‘quarantine’, as judicial officers, at whatever level, the realization quickly penetrates our consciousness that justice cannot be quarantined.”

“Crises do not suspend or end the conflicts, they simply give rise to new ones,” she observed.

Throughout the year of 2020, the Court, it is said, dealt with an “extremely heavy case load”, hearing 393 appeals, with 456 chamber hearings. The Court of Appeal delivered 55 written decisions, and 348 oral decisions on matters.

At the High Court level, 7450 cases were filed, and 4384 disposed. The clearance rate varies from 91% in St Lucia to 31% in Grenada.

“None of the High Courts recorded a clearance rate of 100%,” which points to an accumulation of case back log.

“On average, the overall clearance rate of member states and territories as a grouping, continuously declined over the last three years and was at its lowest, at 59%, in 2019,” the Chief Justice noted.

This means that robust measures ought to be implemented in the member states that are falling behind, she said.

This trend, “…in large measure, reflects the persistent short comings of physical, human and financial resources at their core.”

Pereira contemplated, “It requires an ‘All hands on deck’ approach by all stakeholders to arrest and reverse this trend.”

The opening of the 2021 law year had been scheduled to take place in St Vincent and the Grenadines, but was instead forced into a solely virtual space.

The annual event is one wherein the legal body across the nine member states of the ECSC assemble in their various jurisdictions to begin the new law year with simultaneous church services and court sittings. However, the court has been forced to adapt, in the face of the battle that its member states is still facing with the ubiquitous and sometimes fatal virus that is Covid-19.

Preceding the address of the Chief Justice was a church service from the St Lucia Mission of Seventh Day Adventist, which included a sermonette by Minister Dr Franklin Bray. This was streamed on the ECSC website.

The Minister’s message to those listening, as he delved into the psalms, was that “God is on our side”.

“…If God had not been on our side then we would have been taken over by all the calamities, by all the attacks of the enemy. If God had not been on our side then we would not have survived whatever the enemy sent our way,” he encouraged.

After delivering much teaching on the victorious nature of faith in the face of troubles, Bray spoke specifically to the occasion at hand.

“As you begin this journey with God through this law year, I entreat you ladies and gentlemen, well learned people, anchor your faith in God. And it doesn’t matter what the pandemic will do, it doesn’t matter what goes on around the world, I say to you and I say to you on the ground of the word of God, on the promises of God, God is still the ruler! God is still in charge!” he proclaimed.

The virtual court sitting was also streamed on the ECSC website, and via UWI-TV. The master of ceremonies was resident judge, Justice Brian Cottle.

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