Sadly, it is no longer a surprise when citizens seeking resolution before courts in the Caribbean are forced to contend with severe case backlogs and delays.
Too often, many are denied the right to swift justice, with delays lasting for years and in some cases decades. So serious is the problem, it has triggered the creation of a special regional body to help strengthen the administration of justice and to provide technology to reduce the caseload backlog throughout the region.
APEX is a not-for-profit agency established by the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) in 2016 to deliver technology-based solutions for Caribbean courts, law offices and justice sector bodies. On November 27, the agency convened a stakeholder meeting specifically focused on enabling higher levels of performance across the Caribbean justice sector.
More than 50 delegates from 15 Caribbean countries gathered at the Atlantis Paradise Island Resort in The Bahamas, with another 35 joining the forum online. Among the audience were chief justices, attorneys general, judicial officers, directors of public prosecution, legal professionals, court administrators and leaders of bar associations.
It was the first time that a myriad group of stakeholders of Caribbean justice fraternity had gathered for such a meeting. Bevil Wooding, executive director of APEX, described it as â€œa milestone eventâ€ for the Caribbean justice community.
â€œOur mission, in part, was to bring together a broad range of persons from the justice sector across the Caribbean to directly and candidly confront the challenges and, importantly, to identify tangible solutions for improving the administration of law and justice in the Caribbean. From that perspective, the meeting was a great success,â€ he said.
Sir Dennis Byron, president of the CCJ, agreed.
â€œAt the Caribbean Court of Justice, our mandate goes beyond simply resolving disputes that come before us. We also have a profound obligation to improve the systems of justice delivery throughout the region, for the greater good of citizens, our beneficiaries, across the entire Caribbean,â€ Byron said.
Barbados, Belize, Guyana, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Trinidad and Tobago are among the places where courts and law offices have already adopted technology developed by APEX for electronic case filing, case management and court performance measurement.
Byron pointed out that in every place that APEXâ€™s technology is deployed, the solutions can replace slow, unreliable, manual processes with faster, more accurate, automated systems. He cited examples of inefficient, error-prone and time-consuming manual case management and note-taking of court proceedings, which could greatly benefit from modern technology.
â€œIn many of our courts, the judge or the magistrate takes a manual record of proceedings. This slows down proceedings to the speed at which the judge is recording. It does not produce a complete or completely accurate record. Judgesâ€™ time and energy is taken up by trying to take those notes,â€ he said.
â€œOne of the practical benefits of APEX is that we have been able to make the digital transcript the official record of court proceedings, thus avoiding the need to print, copy, bind, store or ship paper-based records. By simply using the digital recording of proceedings, the court record has become more accurate, and proceedings move much more quickly.â€
Wooding added, â€œThe dream of having Caribbean courts benefit from Caribbean solutions for the vexing and persistent challenges in the administration and dispensation of justice, is now a reality. The next step will be for leaders in the justice sector throughout the region to take full advantage of the technology now available to enable Caribbean court and justice sector excellence.â€
Caribbean courts, public and private bar associations and law enforcement institutions have significant hurdles to overcome in order to strengthen the regionâ€™s justice system. But the advent of APEX and the development of justice solutions tailored to the specific needs of the Caribbean seem to be an important step in the right direction.