From left: IT Manager, Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court, Mark Ernest presents laptops and printers provided by the UK and US Governments to support remote hearings in the region to Senior Magistrate, Christine Phulchere as Court Administrator, Marlies Agdomar; Senior Executive Officer, Diane Richards, and Supernumerary Clerk, Mykela Samuel display laptops.

St. Vincent and the Grenadines is among six countries in the Eastern Caribbean to benefit from EC$200,000 from the UK’s Caribbean Security and Stability Fund (CSSF) to facilitate remote operations of the magistrates’ courts during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The other countries are Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, St. Lucia, and St. Kitts and Nevis

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced jurisdictions to implement stringent physical distancing rules to lessen the risk of transmitting the virus. These measures have resulted in the suspension of physical court activity. 

As a functioning criminal justice system is essential to delivering law and order and reducing the risk of social unrest, the US/UK Criminal Justice Adviser to Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean, Sirah Abraham, approached CSSF for assistance to support remote working in regional Magistrates Courts, a press release said.

The funds will be used to purchase equipment including laptops, printers, scanners, mobile phones and Zoom subscriptions. The equipment and use of technology will allow the courts to make a smooth transition to the digital delivery of some essential services and limit substantial disruption to the criminal justice process. 

The Chief Justice of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court (ECSC), Dame Janice Pereira, had already urged courts to use remote hearings to facilitate the continuation of proceedings and prepared guidance on how these matters were to be conducted in a practice direction issued in relation to COVID-19 emergency measures.

Abraham explained the importance of ensuring a responsive and adaptable criminal justice system during the pandemic:

“This support will reduce the risk of spreading the virus, prevent courts from being shut down as a result of spread and limit any delays in the criminal justice process by ensuring that these essential services are still provided to the public.”

Dame Janice expressed her gratitude for the funding and the continued support of the Criminal Justice Reform Project. She said: “I thank you so much for your continued assistance in coming to our aid and more particularly, in these times when we must retool to ensure that the justice system continues to deliver justice fairly and effectively, even if the physical doors and spaces are closed.”

The Conflict, Stability and Security Fund (CSSF) is a UK cross government fund which supports and delivers activity to tackle instability and conflict. In the Caribbean this fund is focused on supporting the region to address serious organised crime and the development of the justice systems in the region to be able to effectively and efficiently tackle serious crime.