PM Douglas: The role of the magistrate is key to ongoing efforts to preserve and enhance humane, just and democratic societies

BASSETERRE, ST. KITTS, APRIL 25TH 2012 (CUOPM) – St. Kitts and Nevis’ Prime Minister the Rt. Hon. Dr. Denzil L. Douglas has underscored the seriousness of a three-day Magistrates Conference which opened in Basseterre on Wednesday.

Delivering welcome remarks Dr. Douglas singled out the sessions on “A Family Court Approach: Working with Social Services” and “The Magistrate as Family Psychologist.”

(Left to right) – Her Ladyship Justice Louise Blenman; His Excellency the Governor General Dr. Sir Cuthbert Sebastian; Justice of Appeal Her Ladyship Justice Janice Pereira and St. Kitts and Nevis’ Prime Minister the Rt. Hon. Dr. Denzil Douglas and participants in a photo session.

“These sessions underscore the seriousness with which this conference takes social and psychological implications of the onerous responsibilities that the region’s magistrates have assumed, in an attempt to help build a more stable, more just, and more productive society,” the Prime Minister told the legal fraternity.

He noted that the impact of the Caribbean Church, the Caribbean family, the Caribbean school and the Caribbean way of life has become ever more diluted.

“And this, among other reasons, helps to explain many of the vexing issues with which you have been grappling in recent years, and which, in an especially concentrated form, you will be grappling throughout this entire conference. For example, the social causes of sexual offences, the cultural causes of sexual offences and importantly, the gender dimensions of these offences,” said Dr. Douglas.

He pointed to the socially destabilising issue of family violence – its social, psychological and gender dimensions, which he said are all pressing issues, where the administration of justice is concerned.

“And all, I was pleased to note, to be addressed over the next three days, as you strive to improve the region’s judicial response to these pressing issues. Until a flaw is acknowledged, it cannot be corrected. And so this conference’s open acknowledgement, as reflected in your agenda, that gender stereotypes do, indeed, influence the administration of justice, access to justice, and the rule of law and it reflects a laudable commitment to self-assessment – and self-correction. And this is, indeed, commendable,” said Prime Minister Douglas.

He pointed out that in addition to serving as Prime Minister, he is also Federation’s Minister with responsibility for National Security.

“In St. Kitts and Nevis, as is the case elsewhere in the Caribbean and, indeed, throughout the world, pockets of youth alienation and youth violence have been manifesting themselves in the form of gangs.

And, quite troublingly, these gangs seem to have a single approach to resolving conflicts and settling scores. Even as we, in the Federation, continue to meet our own traditional responsibilities in the area of law enforcement, then, we are also keenly aware of the importance of intervening in the lives of misdirected youths before they become hardened criminals, indeed, even before they even commit their first serious offence,” said Dr. Douglas.

Her Ladyship Justice Louise Blenman at the podium and participants at the Opening Ceremony. (Photos by Erasmus Williams)

He noted that 50 years ago, when he was a boy, or forty years ago when he was a teenager, a juvenile delinquent was, perhaps, someone who often ran away from school.

“Or maybe that juvenile delinquent was someone who was often caught stealing mangoes from somebody’s tree. Not only is the term ‘juvenile delinquent’ hardly ever used any more, but even if it were, it would quite often refer to young people who, for one reason or another, manifest, in far more serious ways, their own alienation from society, and who, therefore, now present a far more complex challenge where the administration of justice is concerned,” said Dr. Douglas.

Dr. Douglas noted that because of the changed reality that now faces magistrates everywhere, the solutions, the approaches, and even the custodial arrangements that may have been appropriate and effective forty years ago, may no longer be either appropriate or effective today.

“What then, as this conference’s final session on Day Two asks, are the options open to Magistrates when dealing with youth in conflict with society – and with the law? This is a question which, increasingly, has to be asked by those concerned about the administration of justice – all around the world and not just here in the Eastern Caribbean,” he told the magistrates.

Dr. Douglas said it was important that as each country or region crafts their answer, they do so in the context of what, for their own country or region, would be effective – based on the cultural realities of that country.

“What would be viable -based on the human and material resources available to that particular country. And what would be appropriate based on the dictates of domestic and international law – and the standards that the society in question has set for itself,” said Prime Minister Douglas, who hoped that their deliberations on these very important issues will yield insights and approaches that will help to advance the administration of justice in this region, for many, many more years to come.

“The role of the magistrate is key to ongoing efforts to preserve and enhance humane, just, and democratic societies everywhere,” said Dr. Douglas.

The three-day conference is hosted by the Judicial Education Institute of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court in collaboration with the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women) and the United Nations Children’s Fund(UNICEF) and magistrates are attending from Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, Montserrat, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia and St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

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