AG laments ‘lost’ legal year

The Registrar General’s Department was hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic in 2020 — and has since implemented new safety procedures, according to Attorney General Carl Bethel, QC.

Bethel made his remarks yesterday during the ceremony to mark the Opening of the Legal Year.

Before the onset of the pandemic, Bethel said the Registrar General’s Department had hoped to reduce the 14-day period for the recording of deeds.

However, the office was repeatedly shut down after it became a “repeat hotspot”, he said.

Bethel said, “We had sequences of infections and unfortunately one person, a most able officer, Wellington Smith, passed away.”

As a result, an email system was put in place for company and intellectual property applications, Bethel said.

The email system remained in place when operations at the office returned to normal in June 2020. However, a dropbox was added for company, intellectual property applications, deeds and documents.

Birth registration, deaths and marriage licenses are now done by appointment.

Bethel said, “These measures were put in place for the safety of staff and customers and we ask the public to respect these new measures.”

Additionally, Bethel said security upgrades to address the hacking of the department’s computer system were 80 percent complete.

Bethel said in May 2020, it was discovered that the AS400 system that houses the corporate and civil registries had been breached from “at least October 2016”.

In response, they reconfigured hardware components; removed 45 obsolete computers from their network and upgraded all computers in New Providence and in Grand Bahama.

Bethel said passwords had been strengthened and user profiles were adjusted for both internal and external clients.

Referring to 2020, as the “lost year”, Bethel said that the criminal conviction rate had increased to 87 percent in contrast to 80 percent in 2019.

According to Bethel, 87 people pleaded guilty to offenses such as murder, attempted murder, armed robbery, rape and indecent assault.

Bethel, however, did not say how many trials could not start due to the pandemic.

Bethel said 18 criminal cases ended with the issuance of nolle prosequi (will no longer prosecute). In three of those cases, the accused were dead, he said.

Bethel said that the move of the Office of Director of Public Prosecutions to its own premises in Charlotte House was symbolic of the independence of the Director of Public Prosecutions.

The soon-to-be-passed Court Services Bill will confer true independence to the judiciary as it will finally control its own budget, Bethel said.

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Artesia Davis

Artesia primarily covers court stories, but she also writes extensively about crime.

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