By Mary Francis
As an Attorney at Law and Coordinator of the National Centre For Legal Aid And Human Rights Inc. (a Non Profit NGO) I continue to watch with dismay the continued erosion of access to justice especially with regard to vulnerable and economically deprived citizens of St. Lucia.
In 2000 the Civil Procedure Rules were introduced with costs implications. More recently in 2018 the Eastern Caribbean Court (Non-Contentious) Probate and Administration of Estates Rules came into effect. Again with serious costs implications for the public.
As from 1st July 2019 all matters filed in the Supreme Court which means High Court and Court of Appeal shall be by electronic filing.
The era of E-Litigation filing system will certainly affect the marginalized of which there are many. Whilst it is true that the introduction of technology would improve administrative efficiency however, the issue of affordability is the real issue. What’s the point of having a Court System which a certain segment of the society has no or little access too.
As the Coordinator of the National Centre For Legal Aid And Human Rights Inc., I perceive this new measure as an attack on the protection of Human Rights viz that everyone has a right to access justice and to receive justice from the system set up by government and paid for by Tax Payers of the country.
Furthermore we live in an open society and on behalf of the constituency whom I serve. I abhor this Top – Down approach to governance of the country. After all the Judicial arm is part of the governance of this country. Whilst the independence of the Judiciary is guaranteed constitutionally as regards the adjudication of matters in the Courts (which independence must be respected), however with regard to administrative matters and even the enactment of procedure rules there must be limits in the nature of accountability, when the measures instituted by the Judicial arm of government affect negatively the pockets of Saint Lucians, and bite hard at access to Justice for the poor.
As citizens of a representative democracy, we demand accountability no matter which arm of government is involved in introducing changes in their respective spheres.
Is the government we elect every five years sleeping at the wheel? Is it not time that our representatives guard our right to justice by ensuring in future that such initiatives such as the impending E-Litigation electronic filing are brought under Executive and Parliamentary scrutiny in the interest of democratic governance. In this regard there is need for the establishment of a broad based committee comprising Civil Society Members, Government/Attorney General and the making body of the Judiciary.
We the people deserve better – open government real democracy and protection of the right to justice. Access to Justice is a Human Right. We, all St. Lucians must guard against its erosion. We elect our Parliament whilst the Judiciary exists under the Constitution. There is therefore delimitations which must be upheld.
Ease of Doing Business/Electronic Filing to improve efficiency or is it a case of erosion of access to justice.
Mary M. Francis
Coordinator of National Centre For Legal Aid And Human Rights Inc.