Supreme Court Justice Petra Hanna-Delaney said virtual hearings should continue even after COVID-19 is no longer an issue, citing increased efficiency in the judiciary.
“I am of the view that the virtual/remote hearings should remain an integral part of the judicial system even after we have successfully navigated our way past COVID-19,” she said in The Bahamas Annual Judiciary Report.
“From May 2020 to November 2021, I have conducted in excess of 750 virtual/remote hearings, inclusive of interlocutory hearings and civil trials using the Zoom platform in addition to a number of in-person hearings where the Zoom platform was deemed to be too cumbersome or inconvenient.
“The pros of the virtual/remote hearings are many.
“There has been an increase in the efficiency in the judicial system and a reduction in the cost of litigation.”
The Bahamas court system has been plagued by substantial backlogs for years.
When the COVID-19 pandemic brought the country to a halt, some questioned the impact it would have on the existing challenges.
But Hanna-Delaney said the virtual systems have been especially useful given The Bahamas’ archipelagic nature, noting that judges, litigants, and counsel are able to participate in hearings from their offices or homes.
“Counsel and witnesses can appear from outside of the jurisdiction or the Family Islands,” she said.
“Clients do not have to pay the airfare, ground transportation or hotel costs associated with their counsel or themselves attending court on another island within the Commonwealth of The Bahamas to litigate their matters.
“Counsel save valuable time by not having to commute between the islands to attend court.”
Hanna-Delaney also said that Zoom recordings, though not official records, also assist judges while they wait for official transcripts to be produced.
However, she said that virtual hearings certainly also have some cons, noting that the hours in front of computer screens have taken a toll on the physical health of members of the judiciary and counsel, citing diminished eyesight, back, neck and arm pain for many.
She also noted that some clients also do not have access to a computer or internet or are not computer-literate. The occasional failure of the technology, for example, poor internet service, is also an issue.
“However, despite its cons, I am of the view that interlocutory applications should be heard remotely as well as trials where to do so is not cumbersome or inconvenient,” she said.
“I believe that the final decision as to how the hearing or trial will be conducted should remain in the discretion of the judge, after having heard from the parties.
“Guidelines as to the recommended hours for sitting per day should be set and followed by judges and registrars and it is more important than ever before that they are provided with ergonomic chairs and ergonomic stand up desks, if desired, which permit standing while conducting hearings or writing judgments and rulings.”
Hanna-Delaney also said there should be an allowance for small periods of time for walking and stretching between hearings.