The National Competitiveness and Productivity Council has been instrumental in undertaking a number of reforms which has led to increased efficiency and competitiveness in the economy. In 2014 under the Ease of Doing Business Agenda there was a need to reform the settlement of commercial disputes in St. Lucia thus the NCPC was given the lead role in the establishment of the Commercial Court. Director of the NCPC, Fiona Hinkson explained the impact the court has made in short space of time.
“From a finance perspective we have observed that significant amounts of funds have been freed up due to the quicker settlement of disputes,” Hinkson said. “We also observed that settlement of disputes which is measured by the enforcement of contract indicators has led to an improvement for the World Bank Ease of Doing Business ranking for St Lucia.”
Registrar of the High Court, Charon Gardner-Hippolyte, who oversees the Civil, Criminal and Commercial Divisions of the Court stated prior to the establishment of the Commercial Court matters of a commercial nature fell in the cue in order of priority alongside divorce cases, land disputes, adoption, probate cases, traffic matters and the like.
“So the whole point of this court was to be able to take these matters out and to give them separate priority and this I think has augured well for the business community,” the Registrar said. “I was looking at the statistics for the last couple of years and we have grown tremendously from 44 cases being filed the first year to 84 being filed the second year and last year we filed over 100 cases.”
She noted this figure gets even more impressive when expressed in terms of the dollar value which goes through the court. From the 44 cases filed in 2016 over EC$7 million when through the court while 2017 with 84 cases file this figure was just under EC$50 million.
“In 2018 the figure was over EC$100 million and when you think that EC$100 million is going through a court that has been there for three years you think, wow, we really are delivering a quality of service that has allowed for the unit to be able to grow, that has inspired confidence in persons to be able to file their claims there and to realize that judgment is being given speedily.”
A Legal Officer is now attached to the Commercial Division to assist the judge in delivering decisions in a very timely fashion. The Registrar pointed out that matters are usually dealt with within a 14 to 21 day period with judgments being delivered in three to six months.
The NCPC Director said, “This type of positive result builds investor confidence and has a very positive impact on the ease of doing business climate for St Lucia.”