Hon. Chief Justice, Hugh A. Rawlins Esq.;
Hon. Justices of Appeal;
Hon. Justices of the High Court;
Hon. Attorney General, Justin L. Simon, QC;
Distinguished Members of the Industrial Court;
Distinguished Magistrates and Registrars;
Other Distinguished Guests;
It is an honour to have been invited and a distinct pleasure for me to have accepted the invitation to address this auspicious and distinguished gathering.
I take this opportunity to welcome to Antigua and Barbuda you the distinguished judicial officers as we host the 2010 Biennial Magistrates’ Conference here at the Jolly Beach Resort and Spa under the theme: "Enhancing Technical Skills through Judgment Writing and Judicial Communication”.
I note that Conference participation has not been limited to Magistrates of the Eastern Caribbean States, but has included the Registrars of the High Court in the various Island jurisdictions. Both of these groups, I understand, represent a professional pool from which appointments to the higher Judiciary can be made; whilst this has been traditional in the case of Registrars, only in recent times has the resource of the Magistracy been tapped.
Given our limited human resources and the growing demands of the justice system, continuing legal education of our Magistrates and Registrars would clearly provide opportunities for professional and career advancement while equipping them with the necessary skills to better perform their tasks of adjudication.
Conferences like this one would also serve as an opportunity for reviewing the law in our continuously changing environment and facing legal challenges with the necessary ability and strength of character.
The whole issue of the Magistracy has been the subject of discussions at recent meetings of the OECS Heads of Government as we seek means to strengthen the administration of justice in the region.
The status of magistrates in terms of enshrined constitutional independence, security of tenure, a unified Magistracy within a recognized three-tier Judiciary, and providing quality physical working conditions as part of a Halls of Justice complex, are all matters under current consideration.
We all clearly understand that magistrates can no longer be seen as distant cousins within the judicial system and every effort must be made for their full integration into the Judiciary.
I am heartened by the efforts of the Judicial Education Institute under the distinguished chairmanship of the Hon. Chief Justice to hold biennial conferences with a view not only of educating you important legal and judicial officers, but of providing an opportunity for the exchange of ideas and views of common concern such as evidence, juvenile matters, family and maintenance matters, sentencing, and criminal behavior.
Obviously, these changes in attitude will necessitate changes in the current system and should lead eventually to reform of the judicial structure. I share the view that judicial independence requires adequate funding and control by the judiciary over its finances. The view has often been expressed that the current arrangement of budgetary allocations by each OECS member State has severe limitations.
The suggestion has been posited that a trust fund managed by an independent body of trustees much like what obtains at the level of the Caribbean Court of Justice should be established to meet the expenses of our OECS judiciary from the Magistracy right up to the Court of Appeal.
I support that idea.
It would mean that all financing from the physical plant to remuneration of all judicial personnel and staff to equipment and resource facilities to training and continuing education would be removed from government control and placed in the hands of a self-managing judiciary. It is an idea that needs to be examined seriously and one which I will, in due course, place before my colleague Heads for our joint consideration.
Ladies and Gentlemen:
Reform ought not to be fractional. We as governments need to support the efforts of the Judiciary.
I am delighted to have been invited to address you and to share with you my hope for a reformed Judiciary to better serve our people. The aim of your Conference is just a small but yet important step in meeting this objective.
I trust you will embrace the learning to which you will be exposed over the next few days, and that you will thereafter consider yourselves better able to serve the people to whom you daily dispense justice.
May God Bless each one of each.
May God bless all of our nations.