Supreme Court Justice Bernard Turner said yesterday that the establishment of a sexual offenses court could be disruptive because there is a limited number of defense attorneys in the country.
Turner, who spoke to the Ministry of National Security’s Advisory Council on Crime, was asked about a sexual offenses court.
“There has been discussion about a sexual offenses court and we haven’t gotten there as yet…in terms of space for the establishment of such a court,” Turner said.
He said that attorneys for defendants in sexual offenses matters are also involved in other cases.
“So, when I say that courts are booked into 2021, there are criminal defense attorneys, who when they come to court and seek to set a trial date, would indicate that they are booked into 2022,” Turner said.
He added, “To move all of these sexual offenses matters to a particular court, it would have a disruptive impact because of the fact that those same attorneys, who may be representing those defendants, are also scheduled before other courts.
“One of the balancing acts, which we always have to do, is that as we have these eight courts in New Providence and one Supreme Court on Grand Bahama hearing criminal matters [and] there is a limited amount of attorneys who practice on the defense bar, and challenges exist in terms of scheduling court dates and times to accommodate their schedules…”
During the Opening of the Legal Year in January, former Acting Chief Justice Vera Watkins said victims of sexual offenses often withdraw complaints “after lengthy delays in the court system”.
She called for a court focused on hearing matters related to sexual offenses, noting it would be a “tremendous benefit” for the victims.
Watkins said the attorney general, the director of public prosecutions and other agencies involved in matters related to women and children were concerned about delays in trying sexual offenses.
Turner noted that this is a critical point.
“Nobody wants to have the specter of a criminal offense, in which they are to be a witness as the virtual complainant, hanging over them for very long,” he said.
“So, in other words, if you don’t get that matter from charging to incident to a charge to a trial within a fairly short space of time the virtual complainant will almost invariably lose interest.
“There are exceptions, but generally within a year to 18 months you should try to get those matters to trial.”
Turner also commented on the development of a sexual offenders registry and said that while there is no official registry yet, people in communities can often identify those who are known to be sexual offenders.
He noted that “you have to be careful with that because people can identify people for the wrong sorts of reasons”.
“So, persons may be out there who have a certain proclivity,” Turner said.
“Society and communities have an obligation to protect themselves and to be aware of potential dangers without unnecessarily stigmatizing particular persons for various motives.”