Inefficiencies create the persistent backlog in the courts
The number of Supreme Court justices today stands at 18; up from six just 27 years ago. And, the number of courtrooms, attendant staff and technology have similarly been augmented.
For comparison purposes, Barbados, a Commonwealth Caribbean sister state of similar population size as The Bahamas, has a complement of eight High Court justices, up from four 27 years ago.
Gone are the days of complaints about meager judicial salaries and benefits. Supreme Court justices today earn $166,000 annually in salary and cash allowances; receive non-contributory health insurance for themselves and their spouses and dependent children, and an education allowance for up to two children. They also enjoy a generous pension scheme; the services of a police driver/aide, and a motor vehicle that is owned and maintained by the government.
These are generous terms. Indeed we believe them to be amongst the best in the region and beyond, and fully adequate to continue to attract individuals of the highest caliber, qualification and experience to serve on the Bahamas Supreme Court bench.
Nonetheless, the stubborn backlog in the courts persists; we think at least in part, the result of the organization of the court calendar or in the distribution of work among justices.
We hear rumblings about justices who are perennially late for court, quick to enjoy tea breaks and anxious to end the court day ahead of schedule. There is no compelling reason why all courts should not start at 9:30 a.m. every morning as magistrates’ courts are mandated to do by law. And, justices take far too long to deliver their judgments following hearings. There are decisions of High Courts elsewhere which say that judges should deliver judgment within three months of hearings as opposed to years in some cases in The Bahamas.
And we hear that archaic maladministration continues to surround the jury selection process and the care of witnesses.
Added to these malaises is the matter of some prosecutors and defense lawyers being unprepared for court, in some cases, contributing to interminable postponements. A court date is no assurance that a matter will be heard; postponements have become the rule more so than the exception.
From the outside, it seems as if the judiciary and legal services have become accustomed to and content with the lack of urgency that pervades the execution of their responsibilities. We think that some justices are not pulling their weight; not carrying their full share of the load.
The Judicial and Legal Services Commission might assist in efforts to enhance the work of the courts by ensuring that vacancies on the bench are widely advertised. With the current salaries and benefits, we think we should be able to attract the best legal minds in The Bahamas, the region and beyond.
The new chief justice has a full plate. We recommend to him that amongst his earliest tasks be that of ensuring that the work of the court is equitably distributed among all of the justices and that each justice is made to deliver an honest full day’s work for the full day’s pay which they receive from the Bahamian people.