Health department recommends closure of Santa Cruz courthouse
Launtia Cuff, Gleaner Writer
After years of calls for the Santa Cruz Resident Magistrate's Court to be addressed, the courthouse has been recommended closed by the St Elizabeth Health Department.
This recommendation comes after an inspection that was recently conducted. Although a closure notice was not given, a letter was sent to the court office recommending that the court be closed so that repairs to the building can be effected as soon as possible.
In addition to health concerns, the general aesthetics of the courthouse are poor.
"The only proper courthouse in Santa Cruz, is the Petty Sessions Court. It was built for petty sessions but the magistrates have 'captured it'. The Resident Magistrate's Court, which is upstairs the police station in Santa Cruz, is infested by pigeons, and as rain starts you have to start looking up and getting your umbrella to leave court," Queen's Counsel Velma Hylton told Rural Xpress.
She went on to say that those persons attending court with respiratory issues found it difficult to breathe inside the courthouse.
"It has to be a health concern, particularly for people who have breathing problems: I have breathing problems, and pigeon infestation makes it a little bit difficult to breathe sometimes. I have to always use my asthma inhaler when I'm coming to court," Hylton added.
Although there is yet to be any official recommendations for the closure of the Black River Courthouse, Hylton said there were similar concerns as pigeons have made their home there as well.
"The Black River Courthouse, as far as I'm concerned, ought to be condemned. Some large stones and a part of the ceiling fell out [in April 2013]. Some of the windows are not proper; there are panes of glass missing and when rain comes, it comes from the top and from the side. They did some work to stop the boulders from falling; certainly not enough," Hylton lamented.
She said that in order to adequately provide for the needs of the court system in the parish, not only the two courthouses need to be fixed, but there is a need to build additional facilities to accommodate the courts.
"First, we need a courthouse in Santa Cruz, which is the fastest growing town in the parish and has the largest attendance of accused persons and witnesses at court for two Resident Magistrates' courts because you have a petty sessions court already.
BLACK RIVER ALSO IN NEED
"In Black River, which is the capital, we need a courthouse for two Resident Magistrates' courts and for the Circuit Court, and for petty sessions too, because they have the annex which they use as Petty Session Court or as a courthouse sometimes. And that is worse than the black hole of Calcutta because it's about 10 by 10 and it houses the magistrate, the counsel, accused persons and witnesses," she explained.
She went on to again express her concerns with the underutilisation of the Balaclava Courthouse and said its use could help to lessen the problem of inadequate court space.
"There is an absolutely beautiful courthouse in Balaclava which is treated like a white elephant; it is used about four times per month.
"The Balaclava court is up there ready and waiting, and out of the 25 work days each month, it is used four times. The only thing that Balaclava Courthouse wants is water, and two five-hundred [gallon] drums can solve that problem. It has ample parking [and] it has everything that a courthouse should need," Hylton said.