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Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health, Cuthbert Knights leaves High Court No. 1 on Friday, March 31, 2023 after testifying.
Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health, Cuthbert Knights leaves High Court No. 1 on Friday, March 31, 2023 after testifying.
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High Court judge Justice Brian Cottle, on Friday, summoned to court Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health, Cuthbert Knights to explain the delay in the Mental Health Rehabilitation Centre submitting psychiatric reports on accused people, as ordered by the court.

The court was at the time addressing the matter in which Leroy Cuffy, 32, of Barrouallie, is charged with murder in connection with the April 14, 2021 death of Mandreca Solomon, 28, a labourer, also of Barrouallie.

Justice Cottle noted to Knights that the court had asked the health ministry to provide psychiatric evaluations, adding that it is extremely important in criminal trials, where life and liberty is at stake, that the court get the assistance that it asks for.

The judge asked the senior civil servant to explain the challenges his ministry faces in preparing the reports.

Knights told the court that his ministry, to the best of its ability, has been assisting with the court’s requests for psychiatric reports.

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He said that the challenge is that the ministry has been without a trained psychiatrist for some time.

The ministry has taken several steps to try to address this and brought a retired psychiatrist out of Barbados, who assisted with the backlog of cases, Knight said.

He was referring to Dr. Ermine Belle who served at the Mental Health Centre between 2017 and 2018.

The permanent secretary said that the ministry has been trying to attract a psychiatrist who can be on board permanently, adding that attracting a psychiatrist is especially difficult.

Knights, however, said that recently his ministry was able to attract from England an Indian psychiatrist and the doctor should arrive in the country this month.

He said that while the country is without a trained psychiatrist, the Ministry of Health has been using the services of Dr. Karen Providence, registrar of the Mental Health Rehabilitation Centre.

Knights said that Providence “is not a psychiatrist but has been doing a good job”.

He, however, pointed out that in addition to preparing the psychiatric reports, Providence has to attend psychiatric clinics across the country.

“So, it is very difficult for her,” Knights said, noting that there were five requests from the court for psychiatric reports in March, and Providence was given two weeks to prepare them, “which is rather challenging”.

Knights said that Providence had prepared drafts for some of these reports and they should be ready soon.

He said that Providence had communicated to the ministry a request for additional time, but, inadvertently, the request did not reach the High court.

“In all earnestly and in sincerity, I was trying to ensure that the Registrar of the High Court was informed. She submitted her request on the 27 and we prepared ours but it did not reach the court.

“Our apologies,” Knight said, adding that Providence had indicated that the report on Cuffy would be ready by April 11.

The others would be ready within the first two weeks of this month, Knights said.

The judge told Knights that he hopes that the media can indicate to the public the difficulties the ministry is facing and the heroic efforts it is taking to try to complete the reports.  

Justice Cottle further said it is not possible for the court to deal with a matter when there is a lurking doubt about the mental competence of the accused and no expertise to make that judgement.

The judge said the court needs the assistance of the professionals in that regard.

Justice Cottle said the court had no difficulties granting Providence’s request for more time, adding that it was a pity that the information did not reach the court, hence it summoned the permanent secretary.

Meanwhile, Tameka McKenzie, an assistant director of public prosecution, who is representing the Crown in the case against Cuffy asked Knights to indicate, “for the record going forward”, how much time might be needed to prepare a psychiatric report.

The judge said that once a psychiatrist is in place, the doctor can get a field of this.

Knights, however, said that even with a psychiatrist in place, the volume of the requests can be overwhelming.

He said that his understanding is that there must be a social inquiry, interviews, and preparation of the reports, which can take some time.

“So, I am hoping that that will be considered when the request is made and the deadline stipulated,” Knights said.

Justice Cottle said this is why he said that he would wait until the trained psychiatrist is in place to provide information on timelines.