By: Nicole Best
Former Attorney General James (Jimmy) Bristol is advocating for the increase of court fees and more astute management of the system, as a means of helping to alleviate the crisis of the backlog of civil cases in the Grenada court.
“We have a very dire situation with a major backlog of cases waiting to be heard in the civil high court. The system all but has collapsed and we need to get new court rooms, extra judges and support staff.”
Bristol who has recently resumed the chairmanship of the Grenada Bar Association said that lack of financing is the overriding factor contributing to the problems faced by the court.
“That’s the big bulk bear,” Bristol told a local television outfit. “We just don’t have the money…but not withstanding that, there ought to be some prioritization and through astute measures, one can cut down overheads; at the same time obtain accommodations which are suitable for the court.”
“We can raise money by increasing certain filing fees which can actually help to defray these expenses,” he added.
Bristol said that comparatively, Grenada’s court fees which have not been increased for over 40-years are “ridiculously lower than other Caribbean countries”; in some cases as much as 800% lower.
“For example in Antigua if you are suing someone, the fees for filing a suit is EC$200; but here it is only EC$25.00.
He said these fees “do not adequately cover the cost of filing” and is suggesting that a comprehensive review of the fees be done so as to bring the island’s court fees on par with the rest of the region.
Bristol said he is hoping that eventually all the islands would operate with one fee structure, since they are under the same court system.
He said the Bar Association has begun the process of gathering information from the other islands, with intent to review and come up with recommendations for a new fees structure. These recommendations then have to be taken to the “relevant ministry, after which if it is adopted, have to be brought before cabinet for approval, and then gazetted.”
As it stands, there are over 200 civil litigation cases waiting to be heard in the court which only operates for nine months of the year, with one judge presiding.
An estimated 500 cases are filed in the high court in Grenada annually and the judge can only hear three cases per month; that’s an estimated 27 cases being heard in a law-year.
Bristol says even if two judges are assigned to the high court it will still take a minimum of five years to clear the backlog, which he adds is not good for businesses.
“If you cannot resolve your disputes speedily, then there is no point doing business in Grenada; it’s going to deter investors,” the attorney said.