AG talks fixes for costly, creaking criminal justice system

Such huge amounts come mainly as a result of claims made against the state for wrongful arrests. Attorney General (AG) Byron explained, “There would be claims where people have been incarcerated, some for three years or more who have not come before the Court. When these matters are withdrawn, they would bring claims. That is fundamentally the issue that we are faced with. There are a number of people on remand in the prison who are yet to come before the Court. These all have to be reviewed. It is an urgent matter, one of public interest and should be the focus of all citizens.”

Currently, there are 60 people on remand at Her Majesty’s Prison who need to get their cases before the Court and who have been incarcerated for several years. The attorney general was blunt when he said, “Our criminal justice system is creaking.”

Last year alone only three criminal cases were tried and 32 cases were traversed to the current criminal assizes. Five cases were discontinued because of the lack of evidence, resulting in an accumulation of EC$11 million paid out for wrongful arrests claims.

The AG disclosed that one significant solution is to implement a second High Court to deal with the backlog of criminal cases. He said, “There has been an urgent move to have a second Court implemented at the Lee Moore Judicial Complex. We expect that this Court would become available at the beginning of the New Year. We have had discussions with Her Ladyship Dame Janice Pereira, the chief justice, and she has agreed in principle to provide for us a second High Court Judge, here in Basseterre, to be able to address these outstanding matters.”

Also in the pipeline is the planned establishment of a Criminal Justice Strategic Board, a broad-based entity that will examine the entire criminal justice system and make recommendations for changes.

AG Byron explained how it works. “It will be an inter-governmental agency – the Police, the DPP’s Office, the High Courts, the Prisons, Youth Justice, Probation and other stakeholders who will all come together to establish a broad framework to review the matters dealing with criminal justice in the country, and will make recommendations, set measurable targets and goals to reduce the outstanding problems that we have. This Board will be shortly implemented, and we hope it would give us an umbrella organization, or body, to help us as we move forward in handling the criminal justice system.”

Meanwhile, the Government has secured the services of criminal lawyer Dane Hamilton, QC, who will provide critical assistance to the Office of the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP).

Byron informed, “We have done a number of measures to quickly put ourselves in a position to address the difficult situation that we have in the criminal justice system. An acting DPP was appointed. He will act for a short term while we advertise locally and regionally for a top DPP to come in and take over our system as we go forward.”

He continued, “In addition, we have been able to obtain the services of Mr. Dane Hamilton, QC, of Antigua, who is a leading criminal lawyer in the region, and who will be assisting, as a special prosecutor in the September assizes, both on St. Kitts and on Nevis. He will also have as his remit to be training the staff, working with the staff in the DPP’s Office, working with police investigators, so that when matters are brought before the Court, they are supported by proper evidence – the evidential process is done properly. We are beginning to review a number of the outstanding cases to make sure they are proper before the Court when they do come.”

The attorney general said the actions taken are expected to bring about positive results in the process of tackling the problems being encountered currently in the criminal justice system in St. Kitts and Nevis.

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