On behalf of the Judiciary, I extend a warm welcome to everyone. I acknowledge the presence of Her Excellency, Ms. Anya Williams, Acting Governor, Premier the Hon. Sharlene Cartwright-Robinson, Deputy Premier, the Hon. Sean Astwood, the Hon Speaker, other distinguished members of the House of Assembly including the Leader of the Opposition, the Hon Washington Misick.
I would like to express the Judicial Administration’s gratitude to Canon Kendall for the service that he put together on our behalf which has left us all strengthened for this year’s journey. Thank you as well to our team member, Ms. Harvey, for her wonderful rendition of Hallelujah. Special thanks as always to the police marching band. They are just so talented. I never get tired of listening to them. My thanks to the Divisional Commissioner ASP Bacchus and Inspectors Gardiner and Caley.
Speaking for myself, I hope we won’t have to face as many challenges or as a many losses this year as we experienced in the last. It was certainly a difficult year from many perspectives not least with US political fortunes having, as ever, their impact on our economy and on our tourism in particular and ending as it did with the strike of not one but two storms, Irma and Maria, which also affected the Islands’ main source of income. Of course, we rally, we overcome and we are reminded that these challenges are as always opportunities for growth.
As the American poet, Jane Eggleston reminds us,
“Sometimes life seems hard to bear,
Full of sorrow, trouble and woe.
It’s then I have to remember
That it’s in the valleys I grow.”
As she writes,
“If I always stayed on the mountain top
And never experienced pain,
I would never appreciate God’s love
And would be living in vain.”
She says, as perhaps we all do,
“Forgive me Lord, for complaining
When I’m feeling so very low.
Just give me a gentle reminder
That it’s in the valleys I grow.”
I’m delighted to preside over the Opening of the Supreme Court for 2018 in Grand Turk. We thought we would have a ceremony which celebrated the best of the traditions established by the Chief Justices of the Supreme Court before the tradition ceased in 2007.
Of course neither the Court Administrator nor the Registrar who were charged with the organization and planning for today’s event knew what those traditions were, so we had to rely on the memories of Ms. Sturrup and Ms. Clare from within the Administration ad even more so on the recollections of the Attorneys to whom I extend special thanks. It is certainly grander than anything we’ve done on Providenciales, but it is hardly surprising that Grand Turk, being established so much earlier than Providenciales, would be more steeped in tradition than its commercial neighbour. I am delighted to been able to participate as Chief Justice in the recreated tradition of Church Service followed by addresses in Court after an impressive walk down Main Street and Inspection of the Guard. For those of us in heels, the walk felt especially long.
The addresses of course, provide the Attorney General, the Director of Pubic Prosecutions and the President of the Bar with the opportunity to advise not only the Court but the public of the work they have undertaken over the course of the preceding year, to highlight their achievements and enumerate their challenges and to lay out their plans for the year ahead.
I will speak at once to one of the challenges that I as Chief Justice continue to face which is the suggestion that the Judicial Administration, under my leadership, is not acting in the best interest of court users in Grand Turk. This was given full voice to in a radio interview to which I did not listen but the gist of which was conveyed to me. I regret that public radio thought it appropriate to permit such an attack upon the Administration.
Although I addressed this issue in 2015 at the first renewal of the ceremonial Opening of the legal year and again last year, I feel obliged to deal with it again and to repeat that the current allocation of the Court’s resources is not only appropriate but fully in keeping with judicial tradition.
The tradition to which I refer is the one established as long ago as the 1200s – that’s over 8 centuries ago- by King Henry II of England who instituted the custom of having Judges from London ride out to regions outside London which were known as Circuits to hold Court, rather than requiring every citizen to bring their cases to London.
In other words, the Judges were charged with taking justice to the people.
This is the practice from which the term “circuit court,” with which many will be familiar, derives: judges traveling around the countryside each year to preside over sittings of the Court in the varying Circuits. In my home jurisdiction of Jamaica, judges based in Kingston still travel to the country – go on Circuit – to preside over the criminal cases that have been committed to the High Court for trial.
The Courts sat periodically, the sessions being known as Assizes. Over time, many of these Courts became permanent courts though in some instances they retained the Circuit Court name.
The establishment of a courthouse on Providenciales and the installation there of Mr. Justice Williams to deal with criminal matters was in that tradition of taking justice to the people. The practice of the Judge traveling from Grand Turk to Providenciales to hear civil and commercial matters was established by Chief Justice Ground several years before. That practice also became regularised with the establishment of the courthouse on Provo.
There is no good reason either in principle or as a practical matter to cause persons whose matters arise on Providenciales to take their trial or pursue their civil claims in Grand Turk. It cannot be fair or just to require a civil litigant to pay for his lawyer, his witness and himself to travel to Grand Turk to have his Provo dispute adjudicated with all the costs attendant on such an undertaking. In criminal cases, there is a real possibility that victims and defendants would be unable to have support from family and friends throughout what can be, for both, an ordeal. For the Court, the police and the prosecution it is costly as witnesses, lawyers and jurors have to travel to Grand Turk at the expense of those agencies. Trial times become unpredictable as they are subject to airline delays. In the case of a very serious robbery committed on Providenciales but tried in Grand Turk, airline delays among other things, caused a three week trial to run to five.
It is not, on any view, in the interests of justice or good administration to deal with Providenciales cases in Grand Turk.
For those who said it used to be done before, I say just because a thing was done before does not make it the right thing to do now. I would also say that while it may have been justifiable at an earlier point in time because the number of cases in Providenciales didn’t justify the establishment of a court there, that cannot be said now.
The numbers paint that picture. In 2017, only 5 criminal matters were committed for trial in Grand Turk whereas there were 58 criminal matters arising in Provo. I’ll just repeat that: 5, out of a total of 63 criminal matters to be heard in the Supreme Court, arise out of incidents in Grand Turk.
To cause a judge to reside on Grand Turk for the sake of tradition would not be a good allocation of resources. It is far more cost effective to have a Judge travel to Grand Turk to preside over matters here as they arise.
This court is the Supreme Court of the Turks and Caicos Islands. It was established and its office was situate in Grand Turk because this is the capital and at the time the majority of the population resided here. Given the growth of Providenciales, the establishment of a courthouse there was a practical and administratively sound decision.
As to the location of the Court’s Registry or Office, even before I joined the TCI Bench, persons were filing process in the Providenciales Court, with the permission of the Chief Justice. Now the majority of papers are filed in the Providenciales Court, both civil and criminal, and even more so after the storms. It is therefore of great importance to the Administration that the de facto establishment of a sub-registry in Providenciales is finally recognized in law and to that end, I have asked the Attorney General to lay before the House an amendment to the Supreme Court Ordinance that would achieve that and now await the outcome.
Let me now turn to the task of welcoming those who have joined the Judicial Administration in the last year and to say farewell to those who will be leaving us.
Those of you who are regular court users will have been aware that the Magistrates Court in Providenciales has been strengthened with the addition of Waynette Henfield as an Assistant Clerk and Troy Williams as Bailiff.
One of the very first matters raised with me by the Bar on my appointment as Chief Justice was the difficulty of getting process served which was stymying the work of lawyers who conducted civil litigation in the Magistrates Court on Provo. That complaint has not been repeated so I take it that matters are now being promptly served.
Mr. Justice Shuster, who we were pleased to welcome to the Supreme Court in March of 2015, will be leaving us next month as he proceeds on end of contract leave having, at age 70, come to the end of the term for which for the Governor may, under section 85(1)(a) of the Constitution, permit a Judge to continue in office.
In his time on the Bench here the jurisdiction benefitted from his robust approach to the work which saw trials disposed of with dispatch and avoided the unnecessary engagement of the Court process in matters more properly resolved by way of plea, saving time and costs and of course sparing the victims of crime having from having to go through the ordeal of a trial. Having lived in North America, Africa and the Pacific, Mr. Justice Shuster was a trove of information and a witty raconteur of his experiences of life lived abroad.
Knowing Judge Shuster as I do, I very much doubt that he will retire but whatever he chooses to do, my sister, Mme Justice Joyner and I take this opportunity on behalf of the Judiciary to wish him and his wife, who was a frequent visitor to the Court, every success.
I regret that he is not here with us today but we will be able to say farewell to the Judge with appropriate ceremony before he leaves our Bench.
You will recall that I was so very pleased to announce last year that Mrs Justice Paula Mae Weekes of Trinidad and Tobago would be joining the Court of Appeal, and the rank of other “Female Firsts” in TCI, as the first female Judge of Appeal. I regret to announce that Mme Justice Weekes has been appointed President of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago and has tendered her resignation from our Court. We are honoured to have had her on our Court, even if for so brief a time, and wish her the very best.
I turn now to a brief review of the work of the Courts. We hope to provide a more comprehensive review later in the year.
In 2017, in the criminal division of the Court 63 new criminal matters were filed compared to 67 in 2016 and 53 in 2015. While the intake of new cases has remained fairly consistent, the number of cases disposed of by the Courts has not. In 2015, the Supreme Court disposed of some 92 cases. In 2016, the number of cases tried or otherwise disposed of by the Court was 89.
The figure for 2017 is markedly lower. Our records show that in 2017, only 27 cases were disposed of. And even fewer of those were disposed of by way of trial. This is an unhappy figure which requires some explanation and further analysis which we will undertake. I can say that we have faced a number of difficulties throughout the year which may have contributed to the decline in the number of cases disposed of by the Court.
The decision taken by the Administration last year to try all custody cases in Grand Turk contributed to the decline. The decision was prompted by the Court’s continuing concern for the safety and security of the flying public as defendants in custody are transported on commercial airlines for their trials on Providenciales and the absence of a remand center on Provo which would permit us to house the defendants there for the duration of their trial. The decision was also made in response to the difficulties which were being experienced by the prison in providing officers to accompany prisoners to Providenciales for trial. I don’t recall when the Prison Superintendent spoke to me on this, but I do recall an occasion when he advised me that he could send a prisoner to Provo for trial but he would have to put the prison in lockdown, something which, from my perspective, would have been unacceptable.
The decision had many deleterious effects on the trials for reasons which are numerous and diverse, some more valid than others. It was met with resistance from most quarters primarily for the reason, as I have said, that it is difficult to mount a trial where the police investigating the matter, the witnesses and Counsel are based in Providenciales.
A good illustration of the difficulty of mounting a Providenciales trial in Grand Turk is the trial of the Sunny Foods robbery matter to which I have already referred. Although it was a custody case, Counsel asked for it to be tried in Providenciales for convenience. The request was granted but soon after the trial commenced, it had to be remitted to Grand Turk because the prison had issues with tickets for prison officers and staff shortages. Once in Grand Turk, the case was bedeviled with delays caused by the need to travel by air. Ultimately, the trial overran its estimated time by some two weeks and caused the adjournment of two other trials.
Another reason for the decline, was the adjournment of a number of firearms cases pending the outcome of a reference to the Court of Appeal by the Attorney General of two sentences handed down in cases involving firearm possession which were not in line with previous authority and, had, for that reason, created a great deal of uncertainty.
There was also the failed attempt by the Registrar to ensure that the Courts were not idle by continuing the system of creating a ‘warned’ list of matters -back up trials- in the event that the matter slated to go ahead for any reason was unable proceed. It appears from the various excuses tendered to the Registrar, that, in some instances, Defence Counsel were somehow unaware of the date on which their matters are placed the warned list for trial although this is done at the Plea and Directions hearing. I’m told by the Registrar that one attorney professed to not knowing what that a warned list was. In other instances, the Crown were not ready to proceed.
I take this opportunity then to remind Counsel that every criminal trial has two dates. One is the date when it is fixed as the priority trial and the other is an earlier date for which it is the alternative trial, intended to proceed only if the matter listed as the priory trial for that day falls through.
It is as simple as that.
Counsel for the defendant on the warned list must be ready to proceed. The Crown similarly must have its witnesses ready and available AT COURT on the day, ready to proceed in the warned matter if the scheduled trial fails, for any reason, to go ahead.
I must also observe that there was a marked lack of readiness by the Crown to deal with matters whether because witnesses had not been summoned or Crown Counsel was on vacation causing the Courts to sit idle when they could otherwise be engaged.
Listing was also an issue as there were weeks when no matters were listed. Listing is one of the most important responsibilities of the Registrar and it is something that we must grapple with in the months to come. I will say that the impact of the departure of our Listing Officer, Joanne Williams, who was responsible for preparing the criminal lists until her departure in 2016, continues to be felt and a dedicated listing officer needs to be urgently identified.
I feel constrained to acknowledge that the analysis I’ve offered might not paint the whole picture. Clearly more consideration must be given to the failures to get less than one-third of the work before the criminal courts concluded in light of previous years’ performance. The Registrar and I have, in the meantime, resolved to monitor the situation closely and to work even more closely with the case management officer for the DPP’s office to ensure that this tear’s trial dates are effective.
And then of course the two storms which effectively took us out from September for the rest of the year. The Courts required repair and even after one courtroom became available for jury trials, the Crown was unable to mount any trials because, as we understand it, witnesses and defendants were still recovering from the after effects of the storms.
The old Magistrates Court at Airport Rd which has a jury box and a jury room was re-designated after Irma as a courtroom for a Judge of a Supreme Court – in the same way as a space at the Graceway Plaza has been designated as my courtroom- that building having become too small to accommodate the work of the Magistrates Court. That building still has no electricity which means that no jury trials can be held there which will further impact on our ability to dispose of matters before the Court.
It’s not all bad news and I am happy to be able to relay the excellent report I have received from the Chief Magistrate on the work done in the Magistracy for 2017.
In her Report, the Chief Magistrate notes that, despite the wilting conditions and days lost because of the two hurricanes, the volume of cases which were dealt with by the court was still greater than that of the previous year. For example 942 criminal cases were filed in 2017 compared to 716 the previous year, a difference of 226. Of that number, 771 were completed. Of the 468 traffic cases which were filed, 436 were completed.
There were slight increases to the number of civil and domestic cases filed. In the main, criminal and traffic cases continue to dominate the lists.
2017 saw a total of 2,286 cases filed (in all categories) between Providenciales and Grand Turk up to December 15 and of that number 1,608 were completed.
|Description||Total Filed in PLS||Total Filed in GT||Total Completed||Total Pending|
In terms of trends, the Chief Magistrate notes that there is a steady flow of cases for the offence of unlawful entry, and there is no significant decrease over the previous year. There was, however, an increase in fraud and deception cases over the previous year.
She says that the co-operation with the Police, the Mental Health Department and the Prison has been tremendous and notes that there have been some shared concerns including the lack of suitable facilities to remand juveniles and those suffering from mental illness and expresses the hope that, with the passing of the new mental Health Ordinance which came into effect December 1, 2017, the infrastructure will quickly catch up to the spirit and purpose of the legislation.
I extend my thanks on behalf of the Administration to Ms. Alvanetta Williams, Ms. Kandra Williams and Ms. Nevann Madoo who together collated the information for the Reports.
I would like to note, too, that with the cooperation of all the Magistrates Court’s staff, we were able to rehouse the Magistrate’s Court to the Supreme Court building very quickly after Irma and so ensure that Court’s speedy return to normal operations. I must express my gratitude to the Magistrates and staff some of whom moved more than once in the last year as we first moved the Magistrates Court from the Graceway Plaza to Old Airport Road in an effort to streamline operations and enhance efficiency.
In closing, may I thank every person who has attended for coming, your presence here has made this Opening a memorable one. The presence of so many Providenciales-based attorneys is deeply gratifying.
I ask that you all please join us for refreshments after the adjournment.