DESPITE promises by both the former and current government to open the doors to the newly-refurbished main courthouse on Peynier Street in Castries in the quickest time possible, the building remains closed.
Since undergoing a lengthy period of refurbishment after the court went into recess in July last year, the courthouse has been a hot discussion topic among members of the legal fraternity who were promised that the building would have been opened for the commencement of the new law year by mid-September last year.
When the renovation phase went past the opening of the new law year, then President of the Bar Association of Saint Lucia, Mary Juliana Charles, told The VOICE in October last year that the Bar had “found that the so-called renovations were totally lacking” after she and other lawyers toured the building.
The renovations became necessary following years of staff complaining about bouts of respiratory problems stemming from asbestos and the excrement of bats, rats and pigeons that burrowed in the ceiling and other parts of the building. In some instances, members of the legal fraternity staged sit-outs and protest marches calling for improved conditions at the courthouse.
As a result of the closure, court cases are being heard in various locations across the city, including at Nyerah Court on John Compton Highway and La Place Carenage on Jeremie Street. Moreover, Charles insisted that while the renovations were necessary, Bar Association members were more concerned about having an air quality assessment on the building done before they returned there.
In September this year, Charles told The VOICE that renovations were completed on the building and that she had received an update from the Ministry of Home Affairs, Justice and National Security that an air quality assessment was conducted on the building between August 22 and 24 this year.
Charles said those samples were forwarded to be tested by laboratories in the United States and that results would be made available to the ministry two weeks later. The hope was that the building would have been opened for business last September, which did not materialize.
Attorney and President of the Senate, Andy Daniel, weighed in on the matter last Thursday, telling The VOICE that the longstanding issue needs to come to a close for the sake of justice being seen to be in action.
“I believe that we must make our system work,” Daniel said. “We must stop looking for excuses for not achieving or not going about with what we’re supposed to. We have a judicial system, so let’s put resources and manpower (into it) and get the system to work. Many jurisdictions have one court with various aspects of it. When you prepare for your case, you should go to trial.”
Daniel added that the requisite resources needed to be put into the justice system, whether they are of manpower, financial or buildings in nature. He said Saint Lucia’s justice system “has proven that it can work because it’s the same system we use throughout the OECS and what we have adopted from other countries.”
“If it’s working elsewhere, it can work in Saint Lucia if we put our heads together,” Daniel said.
While serving as magistrate in the past, Daniel said there were instances in which he insisted that courthouses were of a certain standard, stressing that the general courtroom ambience does affect the state of mind.
Daniel added that despite the courtroom being moved to another location, officers of the court must perform to the best of their ability since the court is not necessarily the building. However, he conceded that the actual courthouse does have an effect on one’s performance as a lawyer, judge or parties to a matter.
“I would love to see the system work and the courthouse open. I don’t care what people feel about how (the court) is working at La Place Carenage; my opinion is that the court should not be at La Place Carenage. So I would love for the courthouse to be moved from there. I’m hoping that in the new year government, through the Minister for Legal Affairs, will do all that is necessary to ensure that the court is returned to where it rightfully belongs,” Daniel explained.