Supreme Court owed $22m.
Heads of Government of member states of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court (ECSC) have been called upon to address the 22 million dollars in arrears owed to the court.
Chief Justice of the Court, Dame Janice M Pereira made the appeal during an address to mark the opening of the 2018/2019 law year, which was broadcast to St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) and eight other member states last week, at simultaneous sittings of the High Court.
Her address was delivered under the theme “Challenges, Opportunities and Resilience: The ECSC paving the way to a Modern and Efficient Judiciary for the Eastern Caribbean.”
While the Chief Justice spoke about the progress that the court has made, or is seeking to make in the near future, she also spoke of some of the challenges it still faces and issues that need to be corrected.
She said she was “unable to stay silent about,” the financial state of the court.
“The budgetary allocation for the operations of the court, in any of the member states and territories, is less than three per cent of the annual budget of any of the states, in any year. Yet, the financial position of the court year after year remains of grave concern,” she revealed.
“This court does not have the benefit of a trust fund arrangement, which at least serves as a buffer between the judiciary and the executive, which holds the power of the purse,” she continued, explaining that the court must seek approval for its operational budget every year.
“Even so, the court is constantly faced with the failure of some states, and I say some states, not all, to honour their financial obligations,” she stated.
“Arrears continue to mount in respect of monies due to the court. Currently, the aggregate of arrears in contributions due to the court stands at just over 22 million dollars,” Pereira disclosed.
The concern that justice would be undermined in the current state of events was expressed.
The Chief Justice said that it “feeds the perception held by many that he who pays the piper calls the tune, or put it another way, that there may be the real risk of the exertion of influence over the judiciary.”
“It is time that proper financial arrangements are put in place for full and effective operations of this court, or foundational and constitutional courts. I, therefore, call upon all heads of Government to address the situation, and remove once and for all these perceived notions held by many across our region,”Pereira said.
Among other challenges facing the court was “the current incapacity of the court offices and of many member states, to produce transcripts of court proceedings. This deficiency cannot be overstated,” the Chief Justice said.
She explained, “Transcripts of court proceedings are vital to the appellate process in the bulk of cases. This current incapacity has been rendered so by the failure of many Governments to provide courts with the needed personnel and equipment for the production of transcripts.”
Pereira said she has already held discussions with Government officials on these shortcomings, but she again urged the Governments to support the court.
On the positive side, the Chief Justice noted that, as of this summer, the Sentencing Advisory Committee formed by the court last July has produced the first series of sentencing guidelines for theft, robbery and sexual offences, which has already been distributed to magistrates.
The court has also developed an e-litigation platform, which will provide for the ECSC in a modern, technology driven world, “a singular, cohesive, and incubative platform, operational and accessible from wherever practitioners may be.”
The Chief Justice stated, “I am happy to announce, that we are now ready to launch the system, beginning with the state of St Lucia, and the Court’s headquarters, to be followed in short order by the territories of the Virgin Islands, and Anguilla,” and then state by state until all are linked.