Step up to the plate, serve – Chief Justice
Chief Justice Dame Janice Pereira is calling on all member Governments of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court (ECSC), which includes St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG), to do more than provide lip service support to the courts.
A concern spoken of at length by the Chief Justice during her yearly address at the beginning of the law term, was that the ECSC was under-sourced, both in regard of “human and financial capital”.
Speaking to the eight other members via simulcast from Antigua and Barbuda on Monday, January 13, the Chief Justice said that she was putting out the call to “our” legal practitioners that are “eminently qualified” to “step up to the plate and serve.” She added that this should not be part time, but full time.
“It has been said that some of our finest work comes through service to others,” she noted.
In terms of the financial capital of the court, she called on the executives of the Governments to do more than only provide lip service support to the courts.
“The courts have been made to operate for several months now without an approved budget, and with promises not kept,” she informed.
She said that the Governments only took time once in the space of a year to address funding for the court, which “seems illusive”, as well as, “speaks
volumes” about where “the judiciary is pegged”, that is “somewhere on the bottom rung of the ladder”.
This “chronic failure” for the members to adequately address funding for the courts, prevents the court from putting strategic plans into action, she continued.
“If we fail to appreciate our human resources, and if the doors of our courts are closed, or if physical court facilities cannot support an optimized scheduling of matters, or where basic facilities fail to be provided at all, then all the reforms, no matter how well intended come to naught,” Pereira noted.
The courts are still being crippled, she says, by inadequate physical courtroom facilities even going into the new decade.
“Judicial officers and court staff are expected to work, and the public is expected to conduct court business in buildings that have not been designed to accommodate a court,” she explained.
Furthermore, the courts are in buildings with air quality issues, in ill-situated areas, and without proper accessibility.
“Courts, like hospitals and airports, are special purpose buildings, but when it comes to the courts, this fact seems to be lost on those tasked with providing them,” she commented.
These calls have been continually made by her, and past Chief Justices for years, she stated, and it is time that the Governments stop making promises but fulfill them.
Attention needs to be paid to the judiciary, which the Chief Justice reiterated is an equal branch of Government, instead of the treatment received yearly “as if the courts are a nuisance afterthought.”
The courts in Grenada were unusable for most of 2019, and those in St Lucia, for 2018, she informed.
However, “Whilst these court facilities have now reopened they are certainly only another bandage on a festering wound,” she expressed, noting that the special sitting in St Lucia was taking place in a building outside the court facilities because of inadequate space.
The cost of constructing proper facilities is often cited as the reason, Pereira said, but “the fact Justice also expressed “No one should treat this situation as normal. It is not. All we would be doing is setting ourselves up to pay a much greater price down the road.”