He said in the six years since he joined the CCJ he has had to listen to the voices “of our communities on their perception of the quality of justice delivery.
“I think that as judicial and legal practitioners we have to look at ourselves. I think that one of the underlying problems is that many of us do not fully understand our role as judges and the responsibility of our courts to the communities we serve.
“If we see ourselves as providing the opportunity for citizens to have their disputes resolved fairly and quickly, it would assist in assuming the changes in our operations to eliminate many of the issues on which complaints are being made and help us to embrace the changes necessary for the welfare of our society,” he told the convention that is discussing among other agenda items, issues relating to the challenges of the delivery of justice in the Caribbean.
The convention has been described as a “milestone event for the justice sector in the Caribbean” and brings together national, regional and international jurists, attorneys, legal practitioners and senior court officials.
It is also being attended by government ministers and senior policymakers, as well as leading academics, technologists and business leaders.
The CCJ, which established APEX, describes it as a Caribbean-based, special-purpose, not-for-profit agency governed by jurists and legal practitioners from across the region and Sir Dennis said “we are satisfied that the Caribbean has the creativity, intellectual capacity and competencies necessary to support and develop the justice sector.
“In addition, we are convinced that sustainability of programmes for justice improvement requires the involvement, the buy-in, the contribution of all its sectors.”
He told the conference that the membership of APEX reflects this vision and that APEX already has institutional members from the Cayman Islands, Belize, Guyana, Barbados, Grenada, Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, St Kitts and Nevis, the OECS and the Bahamas.
“I am hoping that all institutions that are eligible will join and contribute to the goal of improved justice delivery to which we all ascribe.”
Speaking on the theme “Enabling a Caribbean Court of Excellence: Addressing the Challenges of Justice Delivery in the Caribbean – The Role & Responsibility of an Apex Court,” Sir Dennis said a critical objective of joining forces with the intellectual strengths of the regional stakeholders is the sharing of ideas and views thereby improving knowledge “and assessment of where we are and where and how we should be going forward”.
The CCJ president said that court technology has become the most important element in improving the quality of justice delivery globally, and its importance is even greater in countries which do not have unlimited resources
“The development of court technology by Caribbean expertise, customised for Caribbean courts is now a reality and the quality and standard of excellence is equivalent to the best international standards.
“Just as in other areas of development the current landscape is suitable for Caribbean courts to use Caribbean developed technology for improving the quality of justice delivery in our region.”
He said that there was need to build consensus on technology-enabled justice-delivery best practices; e-filing and case-flow management solutions; process improvement and sustainable technology deployment strategies; and human capacity-building approaches.
“All interested stakeholders have been discussing and applying technology-enabled best practices for the last two or three decades and there is no longer any doubt or ambivalence on the most effective best practices that we need,” he said.
Sir Dennis said that the convention being used to launch APEX presents a tangible and attainable option for advancing coordinate and sustainable regional court modernisation initiatives.
“APEX is an agency of the CCJ to give effect to our vision that the mandate of the court goes beyond the resolution of the disputes that come to our court and requires us to contribute to the advancement and improvement of the quality of justice delivery throughout the region. We want to make it clear that our position is not restricted by which member state has acceded to the final appellate jurisdiction of the court.
“All member states of the Caribbean Community are part of the CCJ. They signed the institutional arrangements setting up the court, they have funded the court, and they are within the jurisdiction of the court's original jurisdiction. And we are committed to an inclusive vision. APEX provides a vehicle to create an entire value chain to support Caribbean jurisprudence and generate greater efficiencies within Caribbean justice systems,” Sir Dennis said.
He said discussions and activities to improve the quality of justice in the region have been in progress since the last quarter of the last century at least.
“Every solution which is currently being considered has received attention during that last 30 years. It is often a point of great frustration how often we have had to revisit solutions that we thought were already in place.
“Our regional governments have not invested adequately in judicial reform and education nor in the research into these areas nor into the development of systems or technology, content it seems to purchase or rely on the work done in other parts of the world.
“So, most of the development in this area has come from foreign states or donor agencies. It seems clear that these approaches have not resulted in sustained outcomes that are equivalent to the investments that have been made. It is our view that a regional agency owned and managed by the stakeholders of our justice delivery institutions will make a big difference.”
Sir Dennis said that the first activity undertaken by APEX has been the development of technology solutions to support the judicial function.
“There is no doubt that this is the most urgent intervention that is needed to improve the quality of justice delivery in our region,” he added.
The convention is being held under the theme “Enabling Caribbean Court Excellence” and the organisers said that they hope the convention will facilitate open discussion on current court technology utilisation matters of regional interest, particularly as it relates to backlog reduction, judicial performance enhancement and court process improvement.