Hope for the justice system in 2016
What a year 2015 was! There was a slew of legislative initiatives tabled by the Government in its continued effort to curb the scourge of crime that has infested the nation and to improve the justice system.
Many of these legislative measures are still being debated in Parliament but are expected to have a positive impact on crime-fighting and the administration of justice should they be passed into law.
Some of the top crime-fighting legislative initiatives from last year are the Cybercrimes Act, the DNA Evidence Act and the Evidence (Amendment) Act, and the Sexual Harassment Act, among others.
The Government is also making an effort to introduce important reforms to the judicial system. For instance, efforts are now being made to allow the stake -holders in the justice system to have a greater say in how much money is spent on the infrastructure, management, and staffing of the courts.
Changes have also been proposed to the Resident Magistrate's Court system through the tabling of the bill Judicature (Resident Magistrates) (Amendment and Change of Name) Act, which aims to change the name of Resident Magistrate's courts to "Parish Courts" by way of an act now called the Parish Courts Act.
It is also proposed that a resident magistrate will be styled "Judge of the Parish Court". The same piece of legislation allows for the appointment of a "Chief Judge of the Parish Courts", who will report directly to the chief justice.
The chief judge will be responsible for the general administrative supervision of the Parish Courts and will be assisted in the execution of his or her functions by an "Executive Legal Officer to the Chief Judge", which is a new position created by the statute.
However, a critical change to be brought about by the act relates to the power of resident magistrates to punish for contempt of court.
Section 194 of the present act is to be replaced with a provision that gives stronger powers to Parish Court Judges to deal with contempt of court.
Mention should also be made of the ongoing debate in the Senate about shifting our final appellate court from London to Port-of-Spain. This will be a fundamental change if and when it happens.
Overall, it seems like the policymakers are moving in the right direction, but more needs to be done to modernise the physical infrastructure of our courts.
The old structure at the Supreme Court needs some attention, and the Court of Appeal needs expansion to accommodate another panel.
Many parishes are in need of proper courthouses with adequate parking, while some are in need of urgent repairs.
Let us hope that 2016 will bring brighter days for the administration of justice and for the protection of our people from this escalating crime and violence.