Chief Justice Dame Janice Pereira celebrates the launch of a digital portal for the management of Magistrates’ Court documents. Officials said the system should facilitate more efficient processing of cases in the Virgin Islands. (Photo: DANA KAMPA)

The Virgin Islands is looking to the future with the launch of a new electronic portal to manage Magistrates’ Court documents.

Legal professionals celebrated the launch during a press conference on Nov. 10 that was attended by court officials including Chief Justice Dame Janice Pereira, the first Virgin Islander to serve in her position. Dame Janice, who is nearing the end of her 10th and final year as chief justice, said she was proud to see the VI become the second member state to roll out digital access at the magistrate level.

The regional rollout of the new platform is coming in phases, officials explained, noting that the first phase entailed linking the high courts of the nine member states in order to better deal with civil matters.

Dame Janice said investing in such technology was particularly valuable during the pandemic, when courts were limited in their ability to meet in person.

“I must confess that I never would have imagined in November 2018, at the initial launch of the portal in the territory of the Virgin Islands, that it would have been as critical as it has become to the administration of justice not only in this territory but across the entire [Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States],” she said.

She added that the 2017 hurricanes showed the territory the importance of leveraging technology to ensure justice can always be delivered despite natural disasters or other catastrophes.

Stored in the cloud

Also during the press conference, members of the OECS technical team explained that the new system uses Amazon to store documents securely in the cloud, keeping them safe even if disaster were to strike the territory again.

Senior Magistrate Tamia Richards said she has already utilised the platform and believes that it will benefit the community. Attorney General Dawn Smith explained that because documents will be all organised in one place, “the opportunity to lose or misfile records will be minimised.”

“We know how inconvenient, for lack of a better word, that can be and how it impacts real people living real lives,” she said.

She and fellow legal professionals said the portal should help courts function more effectively, ensuring that cases aren’t unnecessarily delayed because a particular record is missing on a court date.

“It is regrettable that we have had factors limiting access to justice or slowing it down,” she said. “But it is indeed encouraging that we are still eager to make things better. What we see here today may be labelled as a ‘portal,’ but it is really a tool to improve access to justice in our community; to make it quicker, more reliable, more secure — and making sure that those who are required to participate or be present can do so more seamlessly than ever before.”