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Govt working to ensure that courts are able to fully function during pandemic

Attorney General Carl Bethel said yesterday additional funding has been approved to make the Magistrate and Supreme Courts able to fully function during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“Much effort was made by the chief justice to secure the plexiglass and just a week or so ago, maybe two weeks, we have also approved additional funding for the full installation of plexiglass in all the Magistrates Courts that are active,” Bethel said in the Senate.

“So, it would be Nassau and Freeport right now because those are the ones with the higher volume of activity…so that we can resume a full schedule of both Magistrates Courts, where 90 percent of Bahamians get their justice.”

Bethel addressed the issue after Senator Fred Mitchell asked for an update on the status of the deadly 2013 Freedom Park case.

Four people were killed during the 2013 mass shooting in Fox Hill.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, jury trials in the Supreme Court came to a halt last March and only resumed in recent weeks. 

Mitchell said it’s vital that such matters be handled expeditiously. 

“It is now going on eight years since that happened and we can’t get a trial,” Mitchell said.

“…They started a trial but due to the pandemic in August, the trial stopped…and now they have to start all over again.

“And of course the farther away you go from the date, the quality of the evidence deteriorates. The issue is always if you don’t have some resolution…some justice, there is not likely to be peace.”

Bethel said there are also plans in place to relocate the juvenile court.

He said it will be located in the same building as the office of the freedom of information commissioner.

“It was never the intention to have a juvenile court right in the midst of a bunch of adult courts,” he said.

“I have been working very hard to locate some premises and with the move of the director of public prosecutions, that has freed up a building…on Thompson Boulevard opposite Water and Sewerage.

“So, the top will be used for the freedom of information commissioner and his staff, which we are staffing that out now. The bottom is going to be converted into a standalone juvenile court.”

Bethel also noted that the government is seeking to create a permanent juvenile court panel to increase efficiency.

“On the question of the panel itself, if I may say that traditionally we have relied on civil society, if you will, persons appointed to this panel and they serve with varying degrees of commitment,” he said.

“And of late it’s been extremely difficult to get a fully constituted panel, etc.

“So, we’re looking at the law and may well reconfigure it. It has to go to the draftsman but in discussions, the idea would be to have a permanent panel that is permanent in this sense.

“The magistrate would be a permanent magistrate set to that court and at least one social service officer from probably a roster who would be serving for a week with that magistrate.

“And then we would still have the panel of civilians but only one or two would come who are prepared to come and commit a whole week. And then another set would come for the next week.

“…So, that is the idea. If it can be done administratively, then it’s fine, but if we have to make a slight change to the law, we’re looking at that right now.

“So, we do want to have real positive improvements in the system of justice so far as it affects juveniles and of course, broadly speaking, the entire system of justice.”

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Rachel Scott

Rachel joined The Nassau Guardian in January 2019. Rachel covers national issues. Education: University of Virginia in Charlottesville, BA in Foreign Affairs and Spanish

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