Sometimes the feet of Lady Justice seem to move ever so slowly. Cases often languish in our courts much to the continued pain and suffering of direct victims and society as a whole. Indeed, in the past, the treatment meted out to victims by our courts often appeared to add insult to injury – especially in offences of a sexual nature. Lady Justice often wept! This travesty once led a former British Prime Minister, William Gladstone, to declare, “Justice delayed is justice denied!” Of course, in layman’s terms (Wikipedia) it means, “If legal redress is available for a party that has suffered some injury but is not forthcoming in a timely fashion, it is effectively the same as having no redress at all.”
Here in Antigua and Barbuda, the eternal lament has been the excruciatingly slow pace at which cases wind their way through our courts. Not to mention the dastardly manner in which victims are sometimes treated in their quest for justice. In fact, the bureaucratic nightmare (scheduling conflicts and backlogs, misplaced paper work, missing evidence, unprepared prosecuting attorneys, and the like) of our lower courts, which often gave rise to inordinate delays, was one of the reasons why many voters in our fair state rejected the proposed move from Her Majesty’s Privy Council to the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) as our apex court. Never mind the CCJ was working on a groundbreaking initiative called the Judicial Reform and Institutional Strengthening (JURIST) Project to alleviate some of the chaos and lack of uniformity in our courts (specifically sexual offences), as well as speed up the course of justice.
The JURIST Project began in the latter half of 2017 with the issuance and adoption of guidelines designed to bring the handling of cases of a sexual nature in line with international standards. The emphasis was on sensitivity to victims, sensitivity to gender issues, a more even delivery of justice, protection of complainants and victims, and a speedier resolution of cases. It was funded by the Canadian government under the aegis of the CCJ and the Conference of Heads of Judiciary of CARICOM. It was a most commendable and worthy effort, especially since it included the setting up of a Sexual Offences Model Court here in Antigua and Barbuda. On Monday, amid much pomp and circumstance, that court became a reality. And we doff our hats to this victory for Lady Justice!
At the grand opening ceremony, High Court Justice Ian Morley said, “Gone will be the days of cases taking four years or more.” Attorney General (AG) of Antigua and Barbuda Steadroy “Cutie” Benjamin said gone will be the days of evidence going overseas and taking years to be returned to Antigua. According to the good AG, “That will be something of the past.” (A forensics unit is being set up here in Antigua and Barbuda). Dame Janice Pereira, Chief Justice of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court – she of the famous declaration that attempts have been made in the past by those with power and standing to influence and tamper with justice – said, “There can be no doubt, given the prevalence of sexual offences in our region, that the establishment of a specialist court to treat such offences would improve the capacity of the court to deliver gender-responsive and customer-focused services to the people we serve.” All well and good! And all very well said, especially the words of the good Chief Justice Pereira whose words about ‘attempts to influence the court’ were in no small measure responsible for cementing the notion that, much like our politicians, our justices must persistently be held up to the most tenacious and dispassionate scrutiny, with the maximum allowable amount of transparency and the most rigorous regimen of accountability. (See the popular TRUST IS A MUST catchphrase during last year’s CCJ/Privy Council referendum debates).
Again we applaud the Canadian government, the CCJ, our court system, and the government of Antigua and Barbuda for this landmark achievement. The funding and other commitments spoken of by our government to making this a truly model court of good justice is certainly commendable. This is a win for the CCJ. It is also a win for those who worked tirelessly to bring the dream to fruition. Most importantly, it is a win for sex victims and Lady Justice.
Of course, with all the hifalutin rhetoric at Monday’s grand opening, we proffer a slightly adulterated version of Lord Chief Justice Gordon Hewart of Britain: “Justice must not only be SPOKEN of being done, but it must be SEEN to be done!” Fiat justitia! (Latin, “Let justice be done!”)