Remarks by Prime Minister Dr. the Hon. Timothy Harris at the Official Opening of the Annual Judicial Conference
Basseterre, St. Kitts — Your Excellency, the Acting Governor General Mr. Tapley Seaton, Q.C., Hon Attorney General Vincent Byron, Your Ladyship the Honourable Dame Janice M. Pereira, Chief Justice of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court, Your Ladyship the Honourable Louise Blenman, Justice of Appeal and Chairperson of the Judicial Education Institute and other Justices of Appeal and Judges, Professor Eddy Ventose, Impact Project Director, eminent course leaders and facilitators, distinguished ladies and gentlemen.
I consider it an honour to have been invited to address this high judicial gathering of judges and other judicial officers who are engaged in the administration of justice in the jurisdiction of the OECS Supreme Court, the Caribbean Community and beyond.
On behalf of the government and people of St. Kitts and Nevis, I warmly welcome you your Ladyship Dame Janice Pereira, Chief Justice ,Your Ladyship the Hon Louise Blenman, Justice of Appeal and Chairperson of the Judicial Education Institute (J.E.I) and all judges and other officers as you embark upon your Annual Judicial Conference under the overall theme of “Improved Access to Justice in the Caribbean.”
I welcome you in the firm knowledge that the judicial branch is a guardian and enforcer of those fundamental principles enshrined in our democracy. I welcome you too cognisant of the contribution that the judiciary makes to the socio-economic development of our countries. That contribution is penned by Cynthia Clement in a 1998 Inter-American Development Bank report. I quote, Effective administration of the justice sector protects property rights and widens the range of transactions and investments economic actors are willing to undertake. People, including owner of small businesses, shareholders in large corporations and even poor people with only their time and personal property as assets, look to the law, the courts, and the police for definition of their property rights and the protection of those rights from infringement by others. If people can expect that the justice sector will resolve disputes in a neutral, quick and inexpensive manner, investments and business transactions are less risky and less costly. Consistent enforcement of understandable laws helps provide a stable environment where the long term consequences of economic decisions can be reasonably predicted and assessed.
End of Quote.
I wish to lend support to this overarching objective of improved access to justice in the Caribbean. Our people look to the Court for justice whether in a criminal or civil matter or in a constitutional matter where the rights of the citizenry or some fundamental issue may be at stake. Team Unity will remember the many controversial cases like the MONC, Senators’ Bill and the Boundaries for which we sought the good offices of the Courts to deliver justice. My government then will be on the vanguard for justice for all. For the citizens who have lost loved ones to the savagery of criminals, we promise justice. For those threatened for participating in the judicial process in any form, we promise that we will use all resources of the state to pursue justice, for justice is the lubricant for a civilized and democratic society.
I respectfully commend Your Ladyship for the Court’s foresight in establishing a Judicial Education Institute (J.E.I) so that Judges and other judicial officers can, on an annual basis, gather in retreat and hone their skills by being exposed to ever-evolving jurisprudential developments. I am advised that former Chief Justice Sir Dennis Byron was instrumental in the establishment of this Institute in 1997. Some say it was not at the time a welcomed innovation for our judges already overburdened with their heavy trial list. However, the quantity and quality of participation today, indicate that our judicial officers have found tangible benefit and merit in participating in the work of this Institute.
Very often we in government seek to legislate away any problem that may arise. Often the required action may be a pause or review or the implementation of already existing legislative enactments. It is therefore useful to pause and reflect on the several processes available to achieve the sought after objective.
Support for the Courts
This year’s education programme is dedicated to the criminal trial process and criminal procedure. This aspect of your work is the very bedrock of our civilization as we know it. It is therefore of fundamental importance that the skills of all judges are introduced to or reinforced in this area. As one of your course objectives puts it- “that skill set of judicial officers would be improved resulting in them becoming better equipped to navigate the trial minefield efficiently and effectively.”
OECS governments will at all times seek to support the Court in its delivery of justice. Our Court, first established in 1967, has an excellent record and has evolved to meet the increased volume of matters referred to it by our citizens. We commend the Court’s administration for the outstanding undertaking to meet the ever-expanding workload and other challenges.
We pledge to continue to lend support in whatever way possible to give assurance to the Court in terms of the resources necessary to discharge its functions. We must commit ourselves to addressing what come before us to enable the Court to improve its efficiency. The Court will find in us a government supportive of improving the terms and conditions of service of our Judges. We must ensure that the Court is equipped both in terms of human resources and other support mechanisms. As “the new kid on the block”, this government commits to do all that it can to achieve these objectives and more. In this regard Team Unity Government commits:
(1) That we shall keep current in our payments to the Court. Very few governments are update to date in payments.
(2) Provide books and other literature required for efficient performance of the work of our Judges and judicial officers here in St. Kitts and Nevis
(3) To provide research assistance to our judges
(4) To fund a special violent crimes Court or such other mechanisms as the Court leadership may advise that would help in the delivery of swift justice to those who commit violent crimes
(5) To support projects to enhance emoluments and pensions of our judges and judicial officers.
(6) To strengthen legal aid
Your Conference’s thematic profile, articulates perspectives on the criminal justice system. The criminal justice system is the system of practices and institutions of governments directed at upholding social control, deterring and mitigating crime or sanctioning those who violate laws with criminal penalties and rehabilitation efforts.
The broad definitional ambit tells me that many institutions, agencies and persons are part of our criminal justice system – the police, the DPP, the Court with its magistracy, High Court and Appellate Courts, Privy Council, prisons and institutions of rehabilitation, and jurors all play a role in determining the quality of the criminal justice system.
Scott and Browne (2013) commenting on the criminal justice system and crime in Jamaica makes a very poignant point that, “Only the criminal justice system has the power to control crime and punish criminals. The major components of the criminal justice system are the Police, the Courts and the correctional agencies. The Police are responsible for maintaining public order, deterring crime and apprehending law violators. The Courts determine the criminal liability of the accused brought to them and dispense sanctions to those found guilty of crime. Correctional agencies provide post-judicial care to offenders who are sentenced by the Courts to confinement or community supervision.”
Each entity needs to be mindful about how its efficiency and effectiveness bear on the work of the other. The quality of policing for example, impacts the case mounted by our D.P.P. and his success in Court determines whether criminals pay for crime or go scot free. Equally the time taken to have Production Orders from DPP will determine the success rate by our police in investigating, arresting and bringing criminals to justice. My government is proposing a criminal justice board to bring all stakeholders together as part of a comprehensive response to law and order, public safety and security in our country.
Violent crimes are matters of grave public concern. My government inherited an out of control situation but we have accepted the challenge to put it right and to win against the criminal forces of destabilization, retaliation and usurpation of the power of the Court to deliver justice. We are happy to report that while still high the statistics on violent crimes save for homicides and those involving firearms reflect a remarkable 33 percent fall in overall major crimes reported between January and June 2015 and a 55 percent reduction over the same period from 2013 to 2015. One incident of violent crime and particularly homicide, is one too many, for a society that cherishes the sanctity of life and living.
That is why we have given every resource to our police including mobilization of resources in support of the 6 Point Plan of Action to combat violent crimes and homicides. Equally our Courts can count on us to do the right thing. First we accept and respect our Court’s independence. Second, as a resource provider to our Courts we will not be stingy nor foolhardy. A well-functioning justice system is a sine qua non for a civilized society.
In closing, the convocation of judicial offers at this time is quite propitious. It comes at a time when matters of public safety and security are on our minds and when the society is demanding justice. Justice pregnant with meaning, multilayered and textured drawing from our concepts of religion, spirituality, the constitution, the rule of law and our notions of the kind of society we ought to be, requires hard work from all of us.
The Court is critical to the purveying of justice. It must be sensitive to the demands of society. It must strive to achieve excellence in its efficiency, in its efficacy and its effectiveness. As it does its work, the Court will find the executive arm in beautiful St. Kitts and Nevis strong and ardent in its support and cooperation. This convocation tells us that our confidence in our Courts is well placed and I wish it every success. Congratulations to the organizers.
To God be the glory. I thank you.