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Raising the Bar: Sir Dennis Byron charts new course for Caribbean justice

Published on January 21, 2017                 

By Gerard Best

PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad — After Sir Dennis Byron was sworn in as president of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) in September 2011, it was no surprise that he immediately set about transforming the institution. His reputation as an innovator and court reformer by then had already been firmly established. 

Sir Dennis Byron, President of the Caribbean Court of Justice, left, is interviewed by Gerard Best at the CCJ Headquarters, Port of Spain, Trinidad, December 14, 2016. Photo: Relate Studios

In the late 90s, as chief justice of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court, he spearheaded several technology-driven improvements in the regional justice system. During his four-year tenure as president of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, he instituted judicial performance management systems still used as benchmarks to this day. 

Now he is at it again. Sir Dennis has led the CCJ into the adoption of a set of innovative systems for electronic filing of documents, case management and court performance measurement. Behind Sir Dennis’ drive for change is an unflinching vision to enhance Caribbean citizens’ access to justice and reduce the delay of litigation from start to finish. He recently weighed in on the use of technology in Caribbean courts. Answers have been edited for length and clarity.

Q: What makes the CCJ so important to Caribbean society at this time?

A: One of the most critical imperatives of Caribbean society is to maintain and advance the rule of law. A well-functioning judicial sector supports social stability and promotes economic development, which is crucial to the region moving forward. The court interprets the provisions of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas in its compulsory and exclusive Original Jurisdiction. This facilitates the extension of CARICOM’s vision of a cohesive and united Caribbean region. The CCJ is crucial for regional integration and is uniquely positioned to ensure that the promise of a Caribbean Single Market Economy works well for all stakeholders. 

Q: What makes the CCJ different from the Privy Council?

A: The distance and remoteness of a court in the UK, and the implications posed by this to overall access to justice for Caribbean citizens is a fundamental difference between the CCJ and the Privy Council. 

The CCJ is vital to the region because it guarantees broader and less expensive access to justice and it is staffed by judges who, because they live in and, for the most part are from the region, are invested in what happens in the region and ensuring justice for the people of the Caribbean. 

As an itinerant court, the CCJ has from time to time sat in Barbados, Jamaica, Guyana and Belize, in addition to sittings at its seat in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad. These itinerant sittings have been at little cost to the host countries as we are aware of the realities of the Caribbean region and do not want to add financial burden to their justice system. 

Access to justice is further facilitated by the use of innovative technology systems within the Court. These include audio and video conferencing facilities that are regularly utilised by the Court to conduct hearings. This spares litigants and their attorneys the financial burden, time and inconvenience to physically travel to the seat of the Court. The audio and video recordings of the hearings of these appeals are uploaded to the CCJ’s website within a day, giving the general public an opportunity to see proceedings before the Court.

Q: How does the CCJ view the use of technology in courts?

A: The CCJ regards technology as a vital tool for enhancing and increasing efficiency, for measuring performance and generally for fulfilling the mandate of the court. By embracing modern technology, courts can become more efficient and effective. This will lead to increased public trust and confidence in the judicial system. This in turn will hasten the reduction of lawlessness in the region. 

Technology also facilitates the transparency of process. Each court matter at the CCJ is digitized and available on the CCJ’s website, ccj.org. In fact, the official record of the court is the electronic recording of the day’s proceedings. 

The CCJ has been pioneering the development of a regional case management platform that will provide improved access to modern systems. This court management software was developed for the Caribbean and is maintained by dedicated Caribbean expertise at reduced cost. This latest release will advance the CCJ’s mission towards a paperless court. It allows all documents to be filed online, and provides case management and performance measurement systems. 

These systems will reduce costs, improve the overall quality of and access to justice, and improve efficiency and timeliness of the process. By championing the use of technology, and showing how it makes the court more efficient, the CCJ is a working model for judiciaries in the region to emulate. A number of them have visited the court to see what we do here and this is another one of the ways that the organization adds value to some of its important stakeholders.

Q: How is technology expected to change the way the CCJ does it work?

A: Technological solutions will render the CCJ and courts in the region more efficient and responsive. Electronic communication between litigants and the courts is a transformative development for regional courts. At the CCJ this process started some time ago when it required that documents be submitted to the court by email. The transition to e-filing, which the new case management system will facilitate, is a logical progression that allows litigants to file documents online and therefore enhances access to justice. E-filing will integrate with the case management systems and automate the organization of information relating to each case. The system will allow judges direct access to case information from any location and eliminate the risk of misplaced files. 

E-filing enables lawyers to commence proceedings by filing actions from outside the courts through the internet. All documents that are required to be filed subsequently are also done electronically. With this system, lawyers no longer have to present paper documents to commence or to further court proceedings. E-filing reduces the use of paper in the courts, thereby saving physical space to store paper and physical effort in transporting physical files within the courthouse. For judges, all documents are stored electronically in the system and the most up-to-date information can be viewed by more than one person at the same time. 

For court administrators, the ability to set performance measures, with notifications if they are not met, will be one of the ways that they will be better able to run their courts. Now they will be able to have reports that will allow stakeholders to see the value of their national court and that show how the judiciaries are working. 

                                                                   

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A Moment with the Registrar of Lands

Published on January 21, 2017                 

By Gerard Best

PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad — After Sir Dennis Byron was sworn in as president of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) in September 2011, it was no surprise that he immediately set about transforming the institution. His reputation as an innovator and court reformer by then had already been firmly established. 

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Sir Dennis Byron, President of the Caribbean Court of Justice, left, is interviewed by Gerard Best at the CCJ Headquarters, Port of Spain, Trinidad, December 14, 2016. Photo: Relate Studios

In the late 90s, as chief justice of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court, he spearheaded several technology-driven improvements in the regional justice system. During his four-year tenure as president of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, he instituted judicial performance management systems still used as benchmarks to this day. 

Now he is at it again. Sir Dennis has led the CCJ into the adoption of a set of innovative systems for electronic filing of documents, case management and court performance measurement. Behind Sir Dennis’ drive for change is an unflinching vision to enhance Caribbean citizens’ access to justice and reduce the delay of litigation from start to finish. He recently weighed in on the use of technology in Caribbean courts. Answers have been edited for length and clarity.

Q: What makes the CCJ so important to Caribbean society at this time?

A: One of the most critical imperatives of Caribbean society is to maintain and advance the rule of law. A well-functioning judicial sector supports social stability and promotes economic development, which is crucial to the region moving forward. The court interprets the provisions of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas in its compulsory and exclusive Original Jurisdiction. This facilitates the extension of CARICOM’s vision of a cohesive and united Caribbean region. The CCJ is crucial for regional integration and is uniquely positioned to ensure that the promise of a Caribbean Single Market Economy works well for all stakeholders. 

Q: What makes the CCJ different from the Privy Council?

A: The distance and remoteness of a court in the UK, and the implications posed by this to overall access to justice for Caribbean citizens is a fundamental difference between the CCJ and the Privy Council. 

The CCJ is vital to the region because it guarantees broader and less expensive access to justice and it is staffed by judges who, because they live in and, for the most part are from the region, are invested in what happens in the region and ensuring justice for the people of the Caribbean. 

As an itinerant court, the CCJ has from time to time sat in Barbados, Jamaica, Guyana and Belize, in addition to sittings at its seat in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad. These itinerant sittings have been at little cost to the host countries as we are aware of the realities of the Caribbean region and do not want to add financial burden to their justice system. 

Access to justice is further facilitated by the use of innovative technology systems within the Court. These include audio and video conferencing facilities that are regularly utilised by the Court to conduct hearings. This spares litigants and their attorneys the financial burden, time and inconvenience to physically travel to the seat of the Court. The audio and video recordings of the hearings of these appeals are uploaded to the CCJ’s website within a day, giving the general public an opportunity to see proceedings before the Court.

Q: How does the CCJ view the use of technology in courts?

A: The CCJ regards technology as a vital tool for enhancing and increasing efficiency, for measuring performance and generally for fulfilling the mandate of the court. By embracing modern technology, courts can become more efficient and effective. This will lead to increased public trust and confidence in the judicial system. This in turn will hasten the reduction of lawlessness in the region. 

Technology also facilitates the transparency of process. Each court matter at the CCJ is digitized and available on the CCJ’s website, ccj.org. In fact, the official record of the court is the electronic recording of the day’s proceedings. 

The CCJ has been pioneering the development of a regional case management platform that will provide improved access to modern systems. This court management software was developed for the Caribbean and is maintained by dedicated Caribbean expertise at reduced cost. This latest release will advance the CCJ’s mission towards a paperless court. It allows all documents to be filed online, and provides case management and performance measurement systems. 

These systems will reduce costs, improve the overall quality of and access to justice, and improve efficiency and timeliness of the process. By championing the use of technology, and showing how it makes the court more efficient, the CCJ is a working model for judiciaries in the region to emulate. A number of them have visited the court to see what we do here and this is another one of the ways that the organization adds value to some of its important stakeholders.

Q: How is technology expected to change the way the CCJ does it work?

A: Technological solutions will render the CCJ and courts in the region more efficient and responsive. Electronic communication between litigants and the courts is a transformative development for regional courts. At the CCJ this process started some time ago when it required that documents be submitted to the court by email. The transition to e-filing, which the new case management system will facilitate, is a logical progression that allows litigants to file documents online and therefore enhances access to justice. E-filing will integrate with the case management systems and automate the organization of information relating to each case. The system will allow judges direct access to case information from any location and eliminate the risk of misplaced files. 

E-filing enables lawyers to commence proceedings by filing actions from outside the courts through the internet. All documents that are required to be filed subsequently are also done electronically. With this system, lawyers no longer have to present paper documents to commence or to further court proceedings. E-filing reduces the use of paper in the courts, thereby saving physical space to store paper and physical effort in transporting physical files within the courthouse. For judges, all documents are stored electronically in the system and the most up-to-date information can be viewed by more than one person at the same time. 

For court administrators, the ability to set performance measures, with notifications if they are not met, will be one of the ways that they will be better able to run their courts. Now they will be able to have reports that will allow stakeholders to see the value of their national court and that show how the judiciaries are working.