Building to Serve

Image: Is the Saint Lucian justice system itself unjust by design?

THE virtual strike by Grenada’s lawyers over the absence of proper court housing facilities must be neither overlooked, nor understated, not only because it is a just cause, but also because it mirrors reflection of the Saint Lucia experience.

The Grenada lawyers have the full support of the OECS Bar Association, led by Saint Lucian attorney Thaddeus Antoine, who is also fully aware of the situation here, where lawyers have long been complaining, even protesting, for better court facilities.

The Grenada lawyers are complaining about complete lack of facilities (See accompanying article on this page). Here though, the lawyers are complaining, among other things, about lack of security at one of the main facilities provided by the state following the closure of the main court building in Castries.

The two matters of complaint are like legal chalk and cheese, but both are legitimate. What they also have in common, though, is the matter of how the state goes about providing alternate facilities when the legal fraternity resorts to rare protest action to press for quick remedial response.

In Saint Lucia’s case, the state has resorted to using commercial space (including in a dockside tourism shopping mall) to serve as courthouses, even while regional judicial institutions are housed in government buildings.

There’s the interminable delay in hearings due to the dysfunctional scheduling system caused by resulting factors, the justice system resultantly spinning through a slow and tiring revolving door.

Then too, there’s the related element of rental of commercial city-centre space for police and immigration offices.

Never mind that only ‘personal effects’ were reportedly stolen, the recent burglary at the Criminal Records Office (CRO) can only strengthen the government’s case for building new police (and court) facilities, even though the jury is still out on whether the proposed new structures should be shared and complementary, joint or separate.

All these cases also point to the need for more attention to be given and more care taken in the process of selection and provision of alternative (short or long term) locations for provision of judicial and other court services.

Compared to some other OECS and CARICOM states, the alternative court facilities provided here can make the worst cases elsewhere in the region look and sound akin to outdated images of African village elders holding court under a tree, with only the sages sitting.

Our learned men (and women) might be well advised to be quite careful about seeming to sound like being more interested in the comfort within which they deliver their essential public service than in ensuring continuity in the process of delivery.

Indeed, our own history shows that hurried decisions taken to provide alternative court facilities only after being forced by strong action can (and does) result in further unforeseen discomforts for all sides – landlords and tenants, lawyers and litigants included.

But the need to give more thought to what actions are taken to correct the deficiencies in provision of adequate court facilities cannot be divorced from the equal need for a similar approach to the issue of joint or separate facilities for the police and judicial administrative services.

Likewise, sufficiency of current building codes continues to be even more relevant here today, in the context of the recent Rose Hill Fire and the continuing discussion of the current (and latest) Vision Plan for Castries.

Yes, we need a new police headquarters and new court houses. But we humbly submit that we also need fresh, if not new determination to enforce the necessary precautionary decisions and actions that will ensure future facilities are designed or fitted to suit the intended or designated purposes.

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