By Ketricia Finch
St. Kitts Reporter
A special sitting to mark the 40th Anniversary of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court commenced on Tuesday morning at the Basseterre Magistrate’s Court. The Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court can boast over its lifetime that it has maintained a proud record of service to the member states and territories of the Eastern Caribbean said Acting Chief Justice the Honourable Brian Alleyne while he was delivering his anniversary message.
Alleyne also said that the life and history of the court have coincided with the transition of the Eastern Caribbean States from colonies to states in association with Britain (The Associated States) to independence for the majority of the former colonies in the sub region.
“Of course, our court was not the first regional court serving the islands now known as the Eastern Caribbean States. The immediate predecessors of our court were the Supreme Court of the Windward Islands and Leeward Islands and the Court of Appeal of the Windward Islands and Leeward Islands, both established by the Courts Order of 1959,” Alleyne said.
“The Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal were superior courts of record, as is our Supreme Court. The Court of Appeal was generally constituted by the chief justice sitting with two puisne judges.”
Alleyne said in all other states and territories over which the court exercises jurisdiction, it is now styled the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court, an evolution which has coincided with the achievement of independence by most of the former associated states, beginning with Dominica in 1978.
“The court now exercises jurisdiction over five Westminster-style monarchical independent democracies, one Westminster-style independent democratic republic with no constitutional allegiance to the British monarch and three overseas territories of the United Kingdom. Each has its own separate body of legislative instruments which must be administered and enforced by the court.”
Alleyne said the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court could justifiably claim to have served the region as a bastion for the protection and promotion of the fundamental rights and freedoms of persons within its jurisdiction. He also said that developing the jurisprudence relating to our constitutions in line with the evolving awareness of the universality of fundamental human rights and the growing maturity of our legal institutions and civil society generally.
“The court continues to respond to the changes in our societies and to seek to evolve in keeping with the ever-changing needs and demands of the justice system. We recognize that to a large extent the continuing social and economic development of the islands which we exercise jurisdiction depends on the existence of a stable, independent, responsive, competent, effective and efficient judicial system, including not least the magistracy, to which over 90% of all legal disputes are referred.
“The system must deliver impartial justice in a timely fashion, if the public is to continue to have confidence in the judicial process and not resort to come form of ‘self-help justice’. In that regard, the Court’s reputation for independence is of fundamental importance.”
Alleyne said the court has grown and they now have the authorization to have four justices of appeal and seventeen high court judges after consisting of the chief justice, two justices of appeal and six puisne judges.
“This growth in numbers reflects, and is justified by, a remarkable growth in both the volume and the complexity of the litigation with which our courts have been called on to deal over the years. A recent yet unpublished study seems to indicate that between 1967 and 2005 the workload of our high court in the various jurisdictions increased by 93% in one state and 1022% in another with two states showing an increase of 400% and two others around 250%. In the court of appeal in the same period the increases varied from 133% in one jurisdiction to 900% in another, with others being in the range of 250% to 383% increases. The study also indicates changes in the nature of matters dealt with by the courts,” Alleyne said.
He said the budget has increased significantly in the period commencing 2001 reflecting administrative developments and salary increases for judicial officers, the increase between 2003 and 2005 was only 3.15%, and has been within modest proportions since.
“It would be interesting to note that despite our small size and the cost of servicing a multi-state jurisdiction such as ours; the justice sector budget per 100,000 inhabitants in 2002 was only 0.6%, almost at the bottom of the comparative table of 10 countries. The highest was 3.8% and the lowest which does not reflect the full allocation to that sector in that Federal state, was 0.13%,” Alleyne said.
Alleyne said in reality, the OECS probably falls one above the lowest of the states compared, in terms of national investment in the justice sector.
“Just as our history did not begin in 1967, so it does not end today. The challenges have been great, the achievements to date have been significant, but we must look forward to the future replete with new challenges, and also new opportunities and we must gird our loins to meet those challenges and to grasp those opportunities,” Alleyne said.