ST JOHN’S, Antigua – Antigua & Barbuda has moved one step closer to its vision of strengthening the juvenile justice system with the opening of a family court this week.
The court will be handling all new child maintenance matters, domestic violence cases and other family matters at the level of the magistracy and, in time, will address all criminal cases involving juveniles.
The appointment of attorney Veronica Thomas, who will be sitting at the helm of this court, takes effect today. She is expected to work through the St John’s Magistrates’ Court at least until a courtroom is properly set up within the High Court building.
The room has already been identified but has not yet been furnished.
Thomas, who garnered experience particularly in probate law, company administration, civil litigation and debt collections during her eight years in private practice, also worked in the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) in 1998 when she began her career as a Crown Counsel.
In 1999 she switched to working as a Deputy/Assistant Registrar of the High Court where she remained until 2004.
Meantime, National Security Minister Dr Errol Cort said there are plans to review existing legislation that deals with juveniles.
“We are looking at modernising our legislation that specifically touch and concern juveniles and how we handle them in Antigua & Barbuda. So there is a whole juvenile justice programme where the parents will play a critical role in that whole process and the whole environment in terms of meting out justice will be changed,” the minister said.
The aim is to develop a slew of legislation that offers alternatives to incarceration as it relates to dealing with juveniles who break the law.
The family court will be an open court. However, bearing in mind that juvenile matters are very sensitive, rules would be changed to accommodate special situations.