By Latrishka Thomas
The Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court (ECSC) has opened a family division within the High Court of Antigua and Barbuda with the aim of broadening access to justice in the country.
The establishment of this division enables the twin island state to address all levels of family matters ranging from matrimonial or other domestic relationships, maintenance, guardianship, wardship, paternity, custody, adoption and domestic violence.
Attorney General Steadroy Benjamin, speaking at the opening ceremony yesterday, said that addressing domestic issues “will prove to be less arduous and more beneficial to all parties concerned”.
The new division will also unite with social services to offer counselling, mediation and other diversion strategies used to resolve family disputes.
And, according to Chief Justice Dame Janice Pereira, persons have already been trained in some specialties.
“We have in fact trained mediators here in the state of Antigua and Barbuda. There are about five trained so far in relation to this specialist area,” she told those present to witness the monumental launch.
The division will be governed by a new set of rules which came into effect yesterday called the ‘Family Proceedings Rules’.
“These rules will comprehensively provide for the practice and procedure in relation to matters such as divorce proceedings, applications for interim remedies, wardship, care and adoption of children, the care and protection of children, maintenance and domestic violence,” Dame Pereira shared.
She said, for example, there is a rule governing reciprocal enforcement of judgements “where there is an order for maintenance of a child made by a foreign court that may be recognised in Antigua and Barbuda”.
Meanwhile, Benjamin announced that the location within the High Court is only temporary.
“This will not be a permanent arrangement. The government has identified the former parliament building on Parliament Drive as the dedicated space for housing this court,” he said.
In addition, he indicated that both the Magistrate’s Court and the High Court Family Division will be placed in the same building which was formerly known as the House of Culture.
The Family Division of the ECSC will be headed by presiding judge Nicola Petra Byer who will report to the Chief Justice.
It will adopt a user-friendly approach, referring to individuals as customers rather than litigants.