The Caribbean island nation of Antigua and Barbuda has opened the region’s first sexual offences court to help remedy the flaws in the nation’s handling of sexual offence cases.
Launched under the Judicial Reform and Institutional Strengthening (JURIST) project on January 21 and implemented by the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), the Sexual Offences Model Court (SOMC) is located in Antigua’s capital, St John’s.
The model court, funded by the Government of Canada, is expected to reverse the problems identified in a 2016 Baseline Study by UN Women under the JURIST project which included delays in the completion of cases; lack of data collection; insufficient coordination between the courts and other related agencies; and non-pursuance of cases by complainants due to fear of re-victimization and re-traumatization by the justice system, reports Caribbean360.
The Chief Justice of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court (ECSC), Dame Janice Pereira, acknowledged the low conviction rates and high attrition for sexual offence cases in the region and expressed hope that the court will “deliver gender-responsive and customer-focused services” to people.
Pereira added that Antigua and Barbuda was selected for the model court because of the country’s progress in addressing sexual abuse cases.
Antigua and Barbuda’s Attorney General, Steadroy Benjamin, said the country has made changes to its legislative framework to strengthen it and aid the model court to deliver quality justice.
He said the Government introduced the Criminal Prosecution Service last year which is headed by the Director of Public Prosecutions and two lawyers recruited to that department to work with the sexual offences court, reports Caribbean360.
The Caribbean region has one of the highest levels of sexual and domestic violence which are often underreported and ineffectively dealt with by the justice system. The JURIST project has introduced model guidelines for sexual offence cases in the region which will be implemented by the court.