Although The Bahamas performed well regionally in the World Justice Project Rule of Law Index, a recent Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) report called “Nurturing Institutions for a Resilient Caribbean” found that there is still significant progress to be made in strengthening rule of law institutions in the country.
“While The Bahamas outperforms Latin America and [the rest of the small economies of the world] ROSE, there is still room for improvement to reach best practice standards,” the report said.
The report evaluated The Bahamas based on the strength of property rights enforcement, the protection of fundamental rights and judicial independence and effectiveness.
The Bahamas performed well as it relates to the protection of property rights, scoring on par with Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries.
The country also performed well overall in the protection of fundamental rights, but it did underperform in certain subfactors.
The report noted, “The only exceptions are the guarantee of freedom of belief and religion and equal treatment and absence of discrimination, where The Bahamas scores below the ROSE average.”
According to the 2019 Rule of Law Index, The Bahamas scored well below the Latin America and Caribbean average for its efforts to ensure an absence of discrimination.
In the IDB study, The Bahamas encountered issues in the evaluation of judicial independence and effectiveness in the country.
“In terms of judicial effectiveness… Whereas the country outperforms comparable countries of equivalent size (ROSE), there exists ample room for improvement as the benchmark of most developed countries is significantly higher. As such, The Bahamas presents a relative lag that was not observed in the institutional dimensions previously assessed,” the IDB report said.
“The timeliness of the administration of justice could be improved in The Bahamas.”
It was noted that the density of judges in the country is low, at 12 judges per 100,000 people, compared to the global average of 18 per 100,000.
Moreover, there was a call for greater independence of the judiciary.
“Fully institutionalized independence of the judiciary is needed to isolate the administration of justice from improper influence, with the caveat that independence does not mean the right to non-accountability,” it said.
“The separation of the Office of the Public Prosecutor from the Office of the Attorney General, as well as a reform to the process of appointing justices, are important ongoing steps in this direction.”
Additionally, it was found that the Bahamian police force underperforms despite high spending levels.
The report said, “Given the relatively high spending levels on the police force and the high ratio of police officers to the population, security and order within The Bahamas is relatively modest.
“For instance, The Bahamas has the third-highest social cost of crime in Latin America and the Caribbean (0.94 percent of GDP) and the third-highest level of private spending on citizen security (between 1 and 1.9 percent of GDP).
“These indicators are only higher for countries with a particularly high incidence of crime and violence like Honduras and El Salvador.”
It added, “As a law enforcement institution, the police should have legitimacy built on effectively guaranteeing police presence across the entire territory of the country, and by increasing the professional quality of police officers rather than just increasing their number.”
“Institutions supporting the protection of fundamental rights, the administration of justice and law enforcement in The Bahamas have room for improvement as they perform below what would be expected given the country’s development levels in other areas (e.g., in property rights protection),” the report concluded.
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