By Keryn Nelson

ANTIGUA: The Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), through their Judicial Reform and Institutional Strengthening project, has facilitated a model court to handle sexual offence cases. The new facility will be based in Antigua, where the government has ammended the country’s laws and budget to accommodate the new development.

“We understood the necessity of providing the supporting services in all areas with respect to the administration of the law,” said Antigua’s Attorney General, Steadroy Benjamin, during the court’s inaugural launch on Monday, January 21, 2019. Benjamin noted that the government had allocated EC$99 million for legal and justice affairs in the 2019 national budget.

Officials say the purpose of the model court is to improve the efficiency of the judicial system by providing faster and more co-ordinated responses to sexual offence cases. To achieve this overall objective, the court will also be equipped with enhanced video and audio technology to aid trials. Vulnerable complainants, for instance, will be allowed to give testimony via video conference from a remote location. 

Other features of the new court include: A special waiting room for complainants, better support services for survivors through the Support and Referral Centre as well as a Family and Social Services Division. There is also specialized training for prosecutors and court administrators who, along with police, will be the only ones assigned to deal with sexual offence matters.

Chief Justice of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court, Dame Janice Pereira stressed during Monday’s ceremony that cases will be tried “in an atmosphere which promotes fairness rather than one where a witness may feel lost and afraid”. 

High Court Judge, Justice Ian Morley

High Court Judge, Justice Ian Morley also said: “Cases will be finished ideally 18 months of charging a defendant… Gone will be the days of cases often taking four years or more.”

According to Dame Pereira, one significant reason Antigua was selected to host the model court is due to the island’s progress in addressing sexual abuse cases.

Also announced on Monday was the Antiguan government’s plans to introduce a forensic laboratory to the island. “We have suffered over the years where bits of evidence sent overseas for testing take years to return to Antigua,” Attorney General, Steadroy Benjamin stated, before adding, “That will be something of the past.”