First Eastern Caribbean Family Court set up in Antigua

UNICEF supports establishment of court

Kareem Smith
Opening of Family Court in Antigua
18 July 2022

ANTIGUA-18 July 2022 - Over a decade of support from the UNICEF has resulted in the creation of an appropriate space for court matters of a domestic nature to be adjudicated. 

The first ever Family Division of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court was opened on Thursday, 14 July 2022 within the High Court of Antigua and Barbuda. 

UNICEF Eastern Caribbean Area Child Protection Specialist Heather Stewart recalled that in 2012 UNICEF started to support the ECSC and the Government of Antigua and Barbuda on the family division of the court 

“From the outset, UNICEF supported the technical expertise which developed the concept document for the court. We have been there at the iteration of the number of rules for the court, the preparation of those rules, for the professional development of stakeholders,” said Stewart at Thursday’s ceremony. 

“They have participated in the association of the family and the conciliatory courts learning programme in New Orleans, U.S.A. We have supported a study tour of the Antigua Multidisciplinary Team to learn from counterparts at the judiciary of Trinidad and Tobago,” the child protection specialist added. 

Stewart explained that UNICEF’s continued support, even with continuously shifting timelines is a testament to the organisation’s commitment to institutions and programmes that improve the lives of children and their families. 

“Family courts are specially designed to deal with problems arising out of family relations and the COVID-19 pandemic has made it no easier,” said Stewart. 

“The judiciary must actively help to create a fair, just, progressive and prosperous society with the rule of law as its cornerstone. But to do this together, with all the actors who play a part in the administration of justice,” she added. 

Stewart therefore lauded the Chief Justice and his team, the Attorney General and his team, and the team at the Ministry of Social Transformation in Antigua and Barbuda, for their collective work in ensuring the project came to fruition during their respective tenures. 

“In doing so, you have also brought the OECS region even closer to realising the dream for children which you committed to when you signed and ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child over 30 years ago and for this, you must be truly commended,” said Stewart. 

The child protection specialist added: “UNICEF’s wish is that this family court of Antigua and Barbuda becomes a model court with timely and responsive wraparound social services that together produce high satisfaction levels.” 

Antigua and Barbuda Attorney General Steadroy Benjamin lauded the new court as an entity that will allow domestic disputes to be managed in a manner beneficial to all parties involved.

Chief Justice Janice Pereira announced that the Family Division would be governed by a unique set of 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.

The Family Division will be headed by presiding judge Nicola Petra Byer and will adopt a user-friendly approach that addresses individuals as customers rather than litigants.