Chief Magistrate Rechanne Brown-Matthias (left) and Resident British Commissioner Steve Moore (Right), with the equipment purchased by the funds donated.

The UK’s Caribbean Security and Stability Fund (CSSF) has provided EC$200,000 to six countries in the Eastern Caribbean to facilitate remote operations of the Magistrates Courts during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced jurisdictions to implement stringent social distancing rules to lessen the risk of transmitting the virus. These measures have resulted in the suspension of physical court activity. As a functioning criminal justice system is essential to delivering law and order and reducing the risk of social unrest, the US/UK Criminal Justice Adviser to Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean, Mrs Sirah Abraham, approached CSSF for assistance to support remote working in regional Magistrates Courts. 

The funds will be used to purchase equipment including laptops, printers, scanners, mobile phones and Zoom subscriptions. The equipment and use of technology will allow the courts to make a smooth transition to the digital delivery of some essential services and limit substantial disruption to the criminal justice process. 

The Chief Justice of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court (ECSC), Dame Janice Pereira, had already urged courts to use remote hearings to facilitate the continuation of proceedings and prepared guidance on how these matters were to be conducted in a Practice Direction issued in relation to Covid-19 emergency measures. The jurisdictions to benefit from the funding are Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, St Lucia, St Kitts and Nevis and St Vincent and the Grenadines. 

Mrs Abraham explained the importance of ensuring a responsive and adaptable criminal justice system during the pandemic: “This support will reduce the risk of spreading the virus, prevent courts from being shut down as a result of spread and limit any delays in the criminal justice process by ensuring that these essential services are still provided to the public.” 

Dame Janice expressed her gratitude for the funding and the continued support of the Criminal Justice Reform Project. She said: “I thank you so much for your continued assistance in coming to our aid and more particularly, in these times when we must retool to ensure that the justice system continues to deliver justice fairly and effectively, even if the physical doors and spaces are closed.” 

At the handing over ceremony, Chief Magistrate Rechanne Brown-Matthias stated that the equipment would be of great help, via the remote use of Zoom, to relieve some of the backlog of cases in the Grenadines due to the lack of flights and she is truly grateful for the donation.

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