CRIM­I­NAL COURT NOT NEARLY READY FOR BUSI­NESS

The Star (St. Lucia) - - LOCAL - ---Clau­dia Elei­box

The Ny­erah Court build­ing, des­ig­nated for the crim­i­nal divi­sion of the Saint Lu­cia High Court, has been closed since April 2018. This ini­tial clo­sure fol­lowed in­dus­trial ac­tion by the courts’ staff be­cause of se­cu­rity con­cerns; then came the usual sum­mer break. By re­li­able ac­count, the St. Lu­cia Bar As­so­ci­a­tion gen­er­ally as­sumed that the re­me­dial work re­quested by the ju­di­ciary would have been com­plete by the be­gin­ning of the new law year. That was not the case. Since the new law year opened on Septem­ber 18, at­tor­neys in­formed this re­porter, “We were pro­vided with no in­for­ma­tion as to a pro­jected date for the recom­mence­ment of the crim­i­nal courts.”

Ac­cord­ing to some await­ing hear­ings and tri­als, they have re­ceived no in­di­ca­tion of ad­journ­ments. Those who ar­rived at court were turned away by se­cu­rity.

A woman com­plained: “So, nearly six months have passed and it hasn’t oc­curred to any­one to ad­vise us that the work hadn’t even started.” She has been wait­ing for a trial date for her mother’s mur­der in midOc­to­ber. “This shows a to­tal dis­re­gard for all those af­fected by crime who cling to a hope for jus­tice. This is ab­so­lutely dis­grace­ful and in the mean­time crime con­tin­ues, more cit­i­zens be­ing killed.”

Home Af­fairs min­is­ter Her­mangild Fran­cis in­sists that fol­low­ing a meet­ing two weeks ago with the reg­is­trar of the high court and min­istry per­ma­nent sec­re­taries, the Bar As­so­ci­a­tion and ju­di­ciary should have been prop­erly in­formed by the reg­is­trar.

He added: “We had $400,000 to deal with ren­o­va­tions but when we spoke to the owner of the build­ing the re­quired fig­ure has come close to a mil­lion dol­lars. Now, we’re try­ing to come to an agree­ment with the owner to get the work done. We got the court as is and no­body com­plained for years. It only came to our at­ten­tion af­ter one in­ci­dent.”

The min­is­ter claimed the po­lice han­dled the par­tic­u­lar mat­ter in April but the court staff still re­quested im­proved se­cu­rity. For the last law year, ac­cord­ing to Min­is­ter Fran­cis, only about 300 cases were re­solved com­pared to 700 the pre­vi­ous two years.

Ac­cord­ing to Min­is­ter Fran­cis, the cur­rent lo­ca­tion of the old Cas­tries Prison is meant to house a brand new high court and po­lice head­quar­ters. Th­ese plans have been put on hold be­cause of an in­junc­tion granted the Saint Lu­cia Na­tional Trust. If fi­nally the gov­ern­ment is granted per­mis­sion to con­tinue de­mo­li­tion work on the old build­ing, the new plans are ex­pected to take an­other two years to com­plete. Un­til then, the court re­mains at Ny­erah Court.

The Min­is­ter for Jus­tice says that though it may seem that the jus­tice sys­tem is mov­ing dread­fully slow, the gov­ern­ment is try­ing to make im­prove­ments: “Some peo­ple keep putting im­ped­i­ments in the way of progress.”

Ny­erah Court must un­dergo some glass tint­ing and other se­cu­rity mea­sures be­fore it meets staff ex­pec­ta­tions.

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