“Courts, like hospitals and airports, are special-purpose buildings. But, when it comes to the courts, this fact seems to be lost on those tasked with providing them.”
Chief Justice of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court Dame Janice Pereira made the comment on Monday as she addressed the ceremony in Antigua and Barbuda to mark the official opening of the new law year on Monday.
Chief Justice Pereira was lamenting the delay of budget approval for the new year and the state of buildings housing courts of law in the sub-region.
“I once more call on the executives of our governments, across the region, to do more than provide lip service support to the Court. The court has been made to operate for several months now without an approved budget and with promises not kept.
“The fact that a little time, just once in the space of a year, to address funding for the court seems elusive, it speaks volumes about where the judiciary is pegged, somewhere on the bottom rung of the ladder,” she said.
The Chief Justice said the “continued chronic failures” to provide adequate funding for the operations of the Court prevents the Court from putting strategic plans into action.
“The reforms and enhancements to current court processes and procedures and the addition of new ones coupled with capacity building amongst our judicial officers and court staff can only go so far.
“If we fail to appreciate our human resources and if the doors of our courts are closed or our physical court facilities cannot support our courts optimized scheduling of matters, or where basic facilities fail to be provided at all then all the reforms, no matter how well-intended, come to naught,” she said.
Chief Justice Pereira said that as the new decade begins, the court is still faced with the “crippling problem of inadequate physical court facilities in this region.”She said judicial officers and court staff are expected to work, and the public is expected to conduct court business, “in buildings that have not been designed to accommodate a court – buildings with air quality issues, buildings in ill-suited locations and buildings without proper accessibility.”
“Every year since I have been Chief Justice and I have had the opportunity to address you in a forum such as this, I have sung the same refrain. Indeed, Chief Justices before me have done the same. I have implored our governments to do their part to provide suitable and adequate court facilities and to fulfill their mandates to the judicial branch of Government. After all, it is a co-equal branch of government.
“It is time to stop making promises but instead fulfill them. It is time that attention be paid to the courts and the indispensable functions they perform rather than the treatment endured year after year after year as if the courts are a nuisance afterthought,’” Chief Justice Pereira said.