Addressing the backlog in the courts
We welcome the appointment of the new chief justice. Like his predecessors, Brian Moree comes to the job with good legal pedigree.
He achieved senior partner status in a leading multi-specialty legal firm, McKinney Bancroft & Hughes, and has previously served as an acting Supreme Court justice. And he served for a term as chairman of the Public Service Commission. He is not unfamiliar with the challenges of public administration. We wish him well in his new position, and we wish him success.
And he takes up his appointment at a time when the courts in The Bahamas are challenged with addressing an obstinate backlog of cases.
Many reasons have been proffered as excuse or justification for this: too few courts; too few judges; insufficient court stenographers; delays created by the police, by lawyers and indeed by witnesses. Presumably some of these have merit. Still, we believe that the backlog in the court system is unjustifiable
The number of Supreme Court justices, including the chief justice, is 18. Barbados, with a similar size population to ours, has nine high court justices including the chief justice – half our number.
The physical number of Supreme Court rooms in the capital was increased to accommodate the additional judicial appointments with the consequent increase in support staff, furniture, equipment, supplies and operational costs.
A judicial center accommodating justices and magistrates’ courts was constructed in our second largest population center in the country, Grand Bahama, and a branch of the Supreme Court established there. Presently two justices are assigned to that division.
The number of magistrates’ courts has also been increased. Today there are 18 magistrates, 12 assigned to New Providence, four to the northern division in Grand Bahama, one in Abaco and another in Exuma. Also included in this number is the coroner who presides over the Coroner’s Court. And, the law permits night and Saturday sittings to address the volume of traffic and other minor infractions. A new magistrate’s court complex was constructed in Nassau.
Electronic recording of Supreme Court cases was instituted and training in case management and witness care was put in place. And there has been an upgrading of technology and equipment available to the courts.
There are presently six Supreme Court registrars, including one assigned to the Northern Division. Additionally, an Industrial Tribunal was created dedicated solely to labor matters, thus relieving the Supreme Court from labor-related matters. There are three “judges” and requisite support staff assigned to the tribunal.
Still the backlog in the court system persists.
The Bahamas has dedicated more money toward enhancing our judicial system than we care to recall. Still the backlog in the court system persists.
A window into the state of affairs of this persistent backlog might be had by what appears to have escaped the attention of all the well-meaning reformers of the court system – effective management and law reform.
We will return to this subject tomorrow.