PRESIDENT of the Bar Association of Saint Lucia, Mary Juliana Charles, did not mince words when she chided the government for not taking the air quality at the court building on Peynier Street seriously last October.
So incensed was she about the situation that she gave the government notice that her legal fraternity would not enter the building unless the government produced an air quality assessment report on the premises.
Charles’ frustration at what she deemed an injustice at the halls of justice stemmed from lawyers and court staff reporting bouts of illness due to the building’s poor air quality. Pigeons, bats, rats and other vermin taking up residence in the building over the years had literally turned the place into a breeding ground for bad breathing.
Since being closed last June to undergo rehabilitation, that courthouse has remained closed with court proceedings taking place elsewhere. However, Charles maintained that despite the renovations that have taken place there, her members will not set foot in the building unless her association is furnished with an air quality assessment report.
Charles’ stance might well have influenced government’s decision to build a new judicial complex that will house the OECS Supreme Court headquarters, Court of Appeal, High Courts, Family Courts and Magistrates. In this year’s Throne Speech, those plans were announced in order to equip the judiciary with the “modern, efficient physical arrangements to support the delivery of justice to our citizens.”
Given that the court’s infrastructure had found itself in a declining bad shape for many years, the proposed plans to ameliorate that situation that spans several administrations makes a great case for justice. Visiting public buildings, including courthouses, should not result in people visiting their doctor afterwards due to poor health.
Many people might recall the legal fraternity taking their case against the unkempt High Court building over the years seeking redress. After their pleas seemingly fell on deaf ears and their protest marches having no bearing on the status quo back then, Charles’ presidency seems to have reopened a case gone cold.
While the government does plan to “intensify its preparations to develop a new Judicial Complex” in the coming year, such preparations do not speak specifically to when the construction of such an edifice will actually begin. What has been agreed, however, is that the edifice will be situated on the Millennium Highway and that the landowner has facilitated the acquisition of the site.
Given the serious nature of the current state of the judiciary’s infrastructure and the magnitude of backlogs in cases, it is imperative that whatever political party forms the next government ensure that this idea comes to fruition as a matter of priority. After all, justice delayed is justice denied, especially when justice itself does not have a permanent place to call its home.