SENATOR THE HONOURABLE ALLYSON MAYNARD GIBSON
ATTORNEY GENERAL AND MINISTER OF LEGAL AFFAIRS
AT THE OPENING OF THE LEGAL YEAR 8TH JANUARY, 2014
I thank their Excellencies the Governor General and Lady Foulkes for attending the Opening of the Legal Year and the Red Mass. It is significant that he as a Founding Father was present as we prepare to celebrate the First Majority Rule Day.
May it please Your Lordship, may I welcome Justices Bethell and Gomez and Acting Justice Winder to the Bench. I look forward to the contributions that from this place they will make to Bahamian jurisprudence. May I also thank Acting Justice Munroe for his service in 2013?
I also thank His Grace, Archbishop Patrick Pinder for hosting the Bench and the Bar at the Red Mass Church Service and His Lordship Bishop Laish Boyd for the Official Opening of the Legal Year Church Service and for the words of wisdom and encouragement in their Homilies.
I acknowledge the presence of the President and Justices of the Court of Appeal and the Deputy Commissioner of Police in his position as Actg. Provost Marshall.
My Lord, with your leave, I refer to the remarks of Archbishop Pinder at the Red Mass where he made it clear that all society must accept its responsibility as “co-conspirators” in causing the breakdown in law and order that we are experiencing today. As we celebrate the first Majority Rule Day national holiday, he and Bishop Boyd reminded us that everyone has a role to play in restoring us to the brotherhood and freedom given to us by God. Each of us has a role in restoring peace and justice in Bahamaland.
My Lord, I wish to publicly thank you and acknowledge your Lordship’s leadership in assuring the progress the Judiciary and the Executive have made in coming together to work towards shared goals. This cooperation has enabled a deep analysis of fundamental problems that have existed for decades in the justice system.
A glaring problem, virtually all Bahamians agree, continues to be the numbers of persons who are being released on bail having been charged with serious offences.
Matters are being set down into 2016. The backlog, including serious offences committed last year, is over 1,000 matters! These statistics show that notwithstanding the efforts of various administrations over decades, the system is fundamentally broken.
Bold steps must be taken to restore confidence in the system.
ALL hands must be on deck. There are no magic wands.
My Lord, we now have the tools to stop the unconscionable delays, dramatically reduce the numbers being released on bail for serious offences, prevent “playing the system” and deliver up SWIFT JUSTICE.
Assembled here today are those who comprise the 4 pillars of the justice system: Citizens, the Police, Prosecutors and the Judiciary.
Citizens must give information to the police so that they will be able to successfully investigate crimes.
Police and prosecutors must closely cooperate so that matters will be properly prepared for trial.
Citizens must be witnesses, give evidence and serve as jurors. Without witnesses and jurors there can be no trials.
Judges must “drive the process” to avoid wasting precious judicial time and prevent unnecessary delays.
The Judiciary has agreed to accept Government’s proposal that up to 10 criminal courts should operate concurrently. People have asked whether 10 Courts will make a difference.
10 courts by themselves will not make a difference.
10 courts together with new strategies will make a difference.
They will enable serious matters to be routinely brought on for trial within 1 year of the person being charged – which will dramatically reduce the numbers charged with serious offences released on bail.
On the present track, the 10 Courts together with enhanced and new strategies will be come on stream on 3rd March 2014 when the temporary courts commence operation.
What are some of the new strategies?
1. Care of witnesses and witness statements – Regrettably, allegations of police brutality and evidence of witness intimidation have become almost routine in criminal trials. On many occasions last year, I saw affidavits notarized by defence counsel signed by witnesses who recanted recently-given statements. We will now routinely refer these matters to the Bar Ethics Committee. Last year we were able to obtain a significant conviction using the sworn evidence of a witness who is alleged to have been murdered to prevent him giving evidence. Now, Prosecutors, routinely make decisions about witness protection and witness anonymity prior to charge. The identity of witnesses can be protected from the moment that they give an anonymous tip through to trial where their identity can be protected while they give evidence. Last year a witness gave evidence in a trial by videoconference from the Remand Court at Fox Hill. Police are now routinely video recording interviews with suspects. Shortly, we shall be asking Ministers of religion and JPs to volunteer to attend witness interviews in police stations and at the Criminal Defence Unit [“CDU”]. These steps will enable all evidence to be put to the jury for their determination. I hope and pray that when called upon JPs and religious ministers will enthusiastically step forward. If they do, we will quickly make it clear that harming or intimidating witnesses will not prevent accused persons being brought to justice. A significant campaign to inform the public about witness protection and witness anonymity will shortly be launched.
2. Creation of a 21st century Court Reporting Unit – The IDB is assisting in this effort. Court Reporters have been provided with new computers, keys and other tools to enable them to deliver transcripts in a timely fashion. Administrative changes to enable proper deployment of resources will also be effected. The timely delivery of transcripts is an essential component of Swift Justice.
3. Creation of a Public Defender Unit – The Commonwealth Secretariat and other international partners are assisting us with the creation of a Public Defender Unit. If Judges are prepared to utilize Public Defenders, we can prevent the delays caused by overbooking or unavailability of defence counsel.
4. Integrated Justice Calendaring System – We have worked hard to create a system of Integrated Justice, allowing for more efficient scheduling of matters brought before the courts. A key feature is the ability to prevent double and triple booking court appearances on the same day.
5. Amendments to the Juries Act – These are now being finalized for discussion with stakeholders. In the temporary courts, new methods will be used to empanel jurors so as to enhance and promote efficiency. The Prime Minister has already indicated that the Government is prepared to bring Family Islanders to Nassau to serve on juries. Interference with or the intimidation of jurors will not be tolerated and will be dealt with by the full force of the law.
6. Use of technology – heightened use of videoconferencing including for bails, remands and arraignments will significantly eliminate delays, as will more routinely at trial taking evidence of nonresidents by videoconference. And, last year digital photos were used in trials. This year we intend to equip all courts with this technology.
7. A vigorous use of case management – The case management section at OAG has been significantly resourced to manage the administration of cases, including witness care. I adopt the thoughts and words of many others who support stringent case management by Judges at the pretrial stage will enable “admissions” in relation to non-contested evidence (rather than calling a witness to give that non contested evidence) and will also enable a more rigorous analysis of the required number of witnesses for a trial. No one should prevent either side from presenting their case as they determine is best. Equally, in the interest of justice, Judges in The Bahamas, as in other jurisdictions should firmly manage the process in their courts. As has been said, Judges can and should resolutely determine matters such as whether a point has been made and counsel should “move on” and whether counsel needs to call more than one witness to make the same point.
8. Preparation and plea bargaining – Assuring that all evidence (including photos, CCTV images and evidence of ankle bracelet identity) that can be in file is on file prior to the first appearance of the Accused will enhance plea bargaining capacity. We hope to repeat the UK experience where Accused persons who know the strong case against them and know that they can have up to a third of the sentence reduced for not wasting the Court’s time routinely plead guilty at their first appearance.
9. Training – The US and the UK have agreed to receive this year Prosecutors and Magistrates for training in implementation of these strategies that comport with internationally accepted best practices. I acknowledge the presence of the Charge d’Affairs of the US Embassy, Mr. John Dinkleman and thank him for his efforts in obtaining this assistance.
10. A renewed commitment to working 24/7 365 by those who ove justice.
As these new strategies make clear, we are leaving no stone unturned in our efforts to ensure that Bahamians, and especially the victims of crime, have the justice system they deserve.
My Lord, police and prosecutors are committed to doing what it takes to assure that matters set down are brought on for trial. And under your Leadership, changes were made and efficiencies were increased.
My Lord, during the visit to the UK Courts last year, the DPP of the United Kingdom made it clear that “Sure and Swift Justice” requires Judges to be “hands on” and to “drive the process”. My Lord, indications are that one of your brothers completed 27 of the 127 matters disposed of by the criminal Judges in 2013. I respectfully indicate my hope that at least 270 matters [27 x 10] will be disposed of in 2014. If all stakeholder hands are on deck we will dispose of significantly more matters!
As the Prime Minister has already indicated, serious consideration is being given to the matter of a constitutional amendment in relation to capital punishment. This amendment will require a referendum as it would amend an entrenched provision of the Constitution. Amending of the Constitution is not a matter of posturing and gimmickry. It must be done with prayerful consideration and a magnitude of public education. The Constitutional Commission will speak more of this matter.
As has been made plain by many Christian leaders, the “war on crime” must also be seen as “spiritual warfare”.
In that spirit My Lord, I end my remarks with a prayer:
Heavenly Father, as we officially open the legal year, we acknowledge the presence of those gathered here today in this hallowed place where justice is dispensed, those whom you have charged with “governing your people with justice and your afflicted ones with judgment”- the Judiciary [led by the visionary Chief Justice, Sir Michael Barnett]; the Police [led by the hard working Commissioner, Mr. Ellison Greenslade]; the diligent and dedicated members of the Office of the Attorney General [including the DLA, the DPP and the PS, whom MOS Gomez and I have the privilege to lead; and members of the Bar, led by the faithful President Mr. Ellsworth Johnson. We also acknowledge citizens and residents whom we have sworn to serve.
For too many of us it feels like a pall of darkness is overtaking Bahamaland. We pray that the light of the Star that led the Shepherds and Wisemen to the cradle at Bethlehem will dispel the darkness of injustice.
As we commence in March the concurrent operation of up to 10 criminal courts, we ask you to bless our efforts to routinely bring on matters for trial within a reasonable period of time. We pray that an immediate result will be a marked decrease in the numbers of persons charged with serious offences being admitted to bail, the elimination of delays and the delivery of swift justice.
As we will all have to account to you on the last day, please help us all to embrace the spirit of humility and accountability. We are all stakeholders in the administration of justice. We claim the words of your prophet Isaiah, “…Nations shall walk by your light, and kings by your shining radiance.” Isaiah 60.
We claim the victory. Your word says “…on those dwelling in a land overshadowed by death light has arisen.” [Mt. Ch. 4] Let Your light brightly illuminate our paths and may You get all the glory.
In Jesus name we pray. Amen.