Efficiency and cost reduction are chief among the expected benefits as Grenada joins member states of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court (ECSC) in implementing an e-litigation portal, which utilises an e-filing system.
Last Friday (Aug 28), the House of Representatives passed the Supreme Court Fees Bill 2020 with one amendment to clause 3 that the fixing of court fees by the Chief Justice together with two other Judges must be done after consultation with the Minister of Finance of Grenada.
Minister of Legal Affairs, Hon Kindra Maturine Stewart, in presenting the bill explained that it implements the electronic filing system that eliminates the need for documents to be filed on paper. She said, “at anytime, anywhere in the world, court documents can now be filed electronically.”
Additionally, the Minister said with this, there won’t be a need to affix stamps to documents.
Further, Minister Stewart explained that prior, under the Supreme Court Fees Act, fees were payable via postage stamps affixed to documents but now the new bill provides for the payment of court fees and other associated costs to be accepted also by debit/credit cards and cheques.
“Once we have a mechanism where court documents can be filed electronically that will seriously impact the way in which our courts and within which how things are administered…we are in the hurricane season and of course during this time, an electronic system can be very important in the event that Grenada is affected by a natural disaster,” Minister Stewart said.
Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hon Peter David, who is a lawyer by profession, supported the bill, saying this move will reduce the cost associated with paper and need for physical storage of documents. He said, “I commend the ministry for that…it also deals with the question of storage and I hope it expands into other areas in the registry because when you go the registry now its stacks and stacks of paper and I am talking about land deeds and other things and I know the Ministry of Agriculture is moving in that direction this year – the registry is moving in that direction….”
Prime Minister Dr Keith Mitchell, who also supported the bill, explained his recommendation for the amendment to the bill, as he expressed concerned to harmonise the fees structure across member states. He stated that not all member states are operating under the same economic strata, pointing out that the level of salaries and emoluments varies among countries.
Dr Mitchell said, “If you are asking me to pay the same fees as another country where the GDP is so much higher relatively speaking and to ask the consumer who is making less monies then I think one has be a little careful.” Hence, he said discussions for the fixing of the court fees must be after consultation with the Minister of Finance. He warns that if fees are just raised by the ECSC which are considered ‘high’ then government takes the blame from taxpayers in individual countries.
He said, “I trust the chief Justice and her team to not come up with exorbitant fees, but you never know. It may be one Chief Justice today and another tomorrow, one government today and other tomorrow, and other Minister of Finance tomorrow.”
Speaking during the opening on 2020 law year in January, the Chief Justice, Her Ladyship, the Hon Dame Janice M Pereira, DBE, listed Grenada, along with Dominica, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and Montserrat to launch the ECSC e-litigation portal during this year.
She reported then that “It has gone live in Saint Lucia, Anguilla, Saint Kitts and Nevis and Antigua and Barbuda for the filing of new high court civil and court of appeal matters and in the territory of the Virgin Islands for new commercial division and court of appeal matters.”