Governor Dileeni Daniel-Selvaratnam with Judicial Officialsat the virtual special sitting to mark the opening of Law Year 2022
The new 2022 Law Year of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court officially commenced on Tuesday, January 11, at 10 a.m. with a Virtual Special Sitting streamed live from the BVI.Her Ladyship, the Honourable Chief Justice, Dame Janice Perira, DBE, LL.D, delivered an assuring feature address on the theme: The ECSC: Reimagining the Justice System in the Era of COVID and Beyond, where she highlighted how the work of the ECSC was conducted over the year 2021 and outlined how the justice system would continue to function in the era of COVID and beyond.Chief Justice Perira noted that “over the past year, the court moved from simply managing the COVID-19 pandemic to developing new and innovative ways of improving the justice system as a whole in light of the deficiencies laid bare by the pandemic.”
Dame Janice Perira, DBE, LL.D
She observed that the pandemic had “created many challenges to the administration of justice across the globe and for the functioning of all courts, [but] it [also] forced us to see and engage in the virtual world and redefine our views of courts – no longer being seen so much as a place, but more so, as a service.”Her Ladyship indicated that courts were forced to transform their operations to where the use of digital platforms have become significant and essential features of the court system.She stated that “as COVID-19 lingers on, and even beyond the pandemic, digitally-driven courts will be critical to the continued administration of justice. In looking towards the future, the court now seeks to implement new and improved measures to ensure the continuity of its work – the dispensation of justice.“This will involve continued reforms of existing processes and procedures, all aimed at improving the court’s accessibility, efficiency and effectiveness in the delivery of justice in a post-COVID-19 world.”Continuing, she said that “a modern and responsive judicial system is at the core of all social and economic development, and the court must constantly innovate and reimagine its modus operandi in order to maintain its commitment to providing effective and efficient access to an independent and accountable system of justice for the benefit of all persons within our member states and territories.”Presenting a snapshot of the work of the court over the past year, Her Ladyship indicated that in the midst of the global pandemic, the courts had remained busy providing access to the justice system mainly through virtual operations both at the appellate court and magistrate court level. This was possible due to practitioners and litigants embracing the use of E-litigation portal and other ICT technology.The Chief Justice reported: “Last year, the court achieved a significant milestone – the completion of the first phase of implementation of the portal for all 9 member states and territories, making good on the promise to link all the courts across the courts’ jurisdiction, digitally.“We are now embarking on the second phase roll out of the portal – an expansion in the types of matters filed and managed in the portal to include high court, family and criminal matters.“Plans are currently underway to reimagine the justice system at the magistrates’ courts level, which deals with the majority of the court cases – to expand the portal to accommodate matters filed in a magistrate’s court, and for the conduct of remote hearings for magisterial matters. In Anguilla, it requires legislative amendment in order for this to happen.”The Chief Justice urged governments in the OECS to introduce legislation for robust criminal justice reform. She recognised that the legislation would address the backlog at every level of the justice system, including at the criminal level.She said: “It is disheartening and quite troubling when those accused of inflicting harm and those who have suffered harm find common ground in lamenting the seeming interminable wait for justice.“The time is ripe for our governments to assist the judiciary by including in their legislative agendas criminal justice reform measures such as provision for the implementation of judge-alone trials for specific case types in the context of the constitutionally guaranteed right to a fair trial.“I once more call on the heads of government of the OECS to seriously consider the necessary and urgent legislative reforms which will aid the courts in the continued delivery of justice – lest justice takes flight. We all know that economic growth and criminality cannot co-exist.”The Chief Justice also urged governments in the OECS to take steps to digitise files and records to allow for greater safety and easy retrieval of documents, and to make digital preparation of real-time transcripts available for court proceedings.She concluded: “If we are able to continue to modernise the court’s processes and put in place mechanisms made possible by the use of ICT allowing for greater accessibility, then it would be true to say that the justice system, notwithstanding the pandemic, but rather, in spite of it, has been reimagined in ways which will better serve all the people of the OECS region in ways that will ensure its sustainability, efficiency and accountability. This, in turn, will promote public confidence and sustain the court’s authority in our perennial quest for a more just society.”The Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court serves 9 member states and territories including: Anguilla, British Virgin Islands, Monsterrat, Antigua & Bermuda, Commonwealth of Dominica, Grenada, St. Kitts & Nevis, St. Lucia, and St. Vincent & The Grenadines.The ECSC consists of two divisions – a Court of Appeal and a High Court of Justice. The Court of Appeal is itinerant, travelling to each member state and territory where it sits at specified dates and times during each year to hear appeals in both civil and criminal matters arising from decisions of the High Court and the Magistrates Court in member states.