Chief justice announces judicial changes
Chief Justice Sir Michael Barnett promised yesterday to place greater focus on the work of the criminal court, a division of the judiciary that has been fraught with challenges for years.
Sir Michael announced several judicial changes during a special sitting of the Supreme Court, marking the start of the new legal year.
He said he will hear some bail application matters himself to increase the time for Supreme Court justices to preside over criminal cases.
“It is our intention to dedicate four courts in New Providence and one in Grand Bahama to deal exclusively with criminal matters,”Sir Michael said.
He said he has asked Senior Justice Jon Isaacs to assume a greater role in the adminstration of the criminal division of the Supreme Court.
Additionally, Justice Bernard Turner, who has oversight of civil cases, will begin to hear criminal matters, Sir Michael announced.
He said in the meantime, several senior lawyers will be appointed as acting judges on the civil side.
They will be responsible for civil matter currently scheduled to be heard by Turner.
Seasoned attorney Milton Evans has already agreed to act as a justice. He along with other lawyers are expected to begin hearing matters in February, Sir Michael said.
But while the government is seeking to enhance the efficiency of the Supreme Court, Sir Michael noted that the vast majority of matters dealing with crime are handled in the magistrate’s courts.
He called on magistrates to be more aggressive in the management of their cases.
Sir Michael said summary matters should be dealt with quickly and adjournments and delays must be kept to a minimum.
He noted that the magistrate court complex on Nassau and South Streets should be completed within the next several months.
“That will assist with some of the unacceptable delays in criminal cases and with all courts in one complex, it will add to greater efficiency,”Sir Michael said.
The complex will accommodate 12 courts. Currently there are nine day courts and two night courts for magistrates.
Sir Michael said the judiciary is working to address the backlog of cases.
“We are not unaware of our own failures and the need to reduce delay in the delivery of our rulings. However, we read with some degree of concern comments made by members of the pubic about the work of the judiciary,”he said.
“I remind the public that as judges we are a part of society and we are painfully aware of the challenges that we face, particularly the high incidence of crime.”
Sir Michael reminded Bahamians that judges are not prosecutors or defense attorneys and are obligated to give those accused of committing crimes a fair hearing.
He said improvements to the judiciary call for the efforts of many.
Among other things, he said greater cooperation among lawyers, better preparation of cases, more complete submissions, promptness and judges working beyond 4:30 p.m. would help with the courts’efficiency.
Additionally, he said many of the cases that come before the courts could be settled outside of court or there is not sufficient evidence to bring them before the court.
Attorney General John Delaney, QC, also pledged the government’s commitment to enhance the judiciary.
“The government is committed to doing its part to provide the country with a more efficient justice system,”Delaney said.
He added that the government has already made several calculated efforts to increase court space.
Two buildings in the downtown area are being transformed for Supreme Court facilities.
The renovation of the Ansbacher building is costing the government$8.5 million and the renovation of the Hansard Building is costing the government$1.6 million.