Reconstruction work at the Criminal Court in Roseau is progressing satisfactory and the facility is expected to be ready by January 2019.
That’s according to Registrar of the High Court, Ossie Walsh who was speaking at a press conference held at the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank (ECCB) conference room in the Financial Centre on Friday.
The court room was severely damaged during Hurricane Maria which devastated the island on September 18th 2017.
“So everything being equal, we should have the criminal court ready, I would say for January 2019,” Walsh revealed.
He continued, “If any unforeseen thing comes up we still have the use of the Parliament building as we always had from the end of September into October this year.”
He said work on the Criminal Court upstairs the main building is nearing completion and should be completed by the end of December.
“I looked at the court this morning. The doors are being put up, the place is beautifully tiled, the ceiling is up and the place is well painted, the electricians are currently doing their finishing touches to the electricals at the main building at the Criminal Court.,” he stated.
Walsh said the Ministry of Justice has come a long way; much of their files have been retrieved and cleaned up. The Civil Court, he said, started on January 8th 2018 and since June 2018 has been housed in a more comfortable environment in the lower section of the main building.
“Civil cases have been dealt with throughout the year so far and will continue to do so until the condition improves,” Walsh noted.
However, he said criminal cases are posing a bigger challenge, “but we are nearing overcoming much of the problem that we encountered after Hurricane Maria.”
According to Walsh, the jury’s list posed the biggest problem for his department.
“Criminal court can only commence when there is a panel of jurors in place,” Walsh said. “One of the biggest challenges we had was to find an appropriate master list to extract the jurors name from.”
He said the electors list was being used for that purpose and a new list from which to extract the names was only available in August this year.
Walsh mentioned that arraignment sessions will be held on the 19th and the 26th of November 2018 and those criminal cases will be heard in January 2019.
Meantime, Acting Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Justice, Immigration and National Security, Jo-Anne Commodore said the Ministry of Justice has been working tirelessly to fulfil its mandate in ensuring a peaceful and just society and ensuring that climate resilience is a key factor in the rebuilding of the court.
“We wish to emphasize that the idea of the court being neglected is simply not true. Construction is currently ongoing, especially to repairs of the criminal division of the court as well as the civil division of the court,” she remarked.
She pointed out that in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, the Ministry of Justice had to relocate several offices such as the office of the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP), the company’s Registry, the Magistrate’s Court, among others.
“We have not been able to complete construction. We have sought alternative means such as renting, in case of the Charles Pharmacy Building to house the Magistrate’s Court and the building of a temporary Civil Court at the Registry building,” she said. “Do not imagine though, that we are satisfied with this.”
She continued, “We are currently looking into repairing the Baracoon building as we are aware that the temporary Civil Court is by no means ideal.”
Commodore said in case of the Criminal Court permission has been sought and has been given, to utilize the Parliament Building, “but it is important to stress that after the type of devastation caused by Maria the ensuing delay caused damage to files of both parties, that is the court as well as private attorneys.”
“The only way criminal trials can resume is for the court to assess where it currently is,” Commodore noted.
She went on to say that the number of magistrates has been increased by two this year to help reduce the waiting time for trials even further and will create better access to justice.
Another press conference is expected to be held at the end of November to focus on all the different departments.