CRIMINAL COURT NOT NEARLY READY FOR BUSINESS
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.