NASSAU, The Bahamas – In the first sitting of the Appeal Court for 2015, Attorney-General and Minister of Legal Affairs Senator the Hon. Allyson Maynard-Gibson, QC, said the respect and high esteem in which the Appeal Court is held is the result of visionary leadership and hard work of the Justices of Appeal. She said the modern and businesslike manner in which the court works and the outer beauty of its accommodations have earned regional respect.
“It is my hope and prayer that all involved in the administration of justice will follow the example set by this court. For litigants, the justice system is a unified whole. This court continues to demonstrate that efficiency, transparency and accountability are attainable goals that the public have the right to expect of its judges,” said the Attorney General.
She pointed out that the Office of the Attorney General will continue its efforts to improve efficiency, transparency and accountability. She said, “The updated Laws on Line website is being tested. Effective 2015 laws will be posted chronologically within a short period after Assent. Also in 2015 we expect to complete a consolidation exercise current to 2014.
“Bahamians are entitled to expect that justice being done and seen to be done – in the most efficient and cost effective manner – is the central focus of all of our efforts. I return to the fine example set by this court and in doing so hope that it will also inspire citizens to acknowledge and accept their role as stakeholders in our justice system.”
The Hon. Justice Anita Allen, President of the Court of Appeal in her address at the special sitting of the Court of Appeal, Thursday, January 29 outlined plans for 2015, renovations to the court, and personnel changes. Among them she proposed to consider holding regular meetings with key stakeholders including the Government, the Commissioner of Police, the legal profession and representatives of civil society to discuss and find solutions to important issues which the Bahamian society faces.
“I am confident that we can do so without endangering or compromising our impartiality or our independence,” said the President.
Commenting on recent upgrades to the courts, the President said the two large courtrooms, which were occupied in early January, are complete apart from furnishings. She said the courts will allow two panels sitting to hear appeals simultaneously providing there is a “full complement” of judges. There are also spacious chambers to accommodate six judges.
She noted that work on the fourth floor began two weeks ago and is expected to be finished very soon. It will house, among other things, the existing court, the Registrars’ chambers, the Registry, a library and a lawyers’ lounge.
Regarding the challenge of late delivery of transcripts for criminal appeals, the President announced the issuance of a practice direction effective January 23. She said, “In cases in which the transcript exceeds 1000 pages, counsel must, within 7 days of the receipt of the transcript, file a “transcript index” outlining the specific portions of the transcript on which they intend to rely in the appeal. In this regard, I ask for the full cooperation of all counsel,” she said.
She expressed concern for the standard of representation by counsel before the court.
“Far too often, shoddily prepared and inadequate grounds of appeal were filed; skeleton arguments were late or not filed at all; there were too many applications for adjournments on the basis that counsel did not have sufficient time to prepare; or because they were in trials, or for some other innovative, imaginative but specious reason.
“Moreover, the court was more often than not, unassisted by the standard of skeleton arguments when they were filed, or in some cases, by the oral arguments made before the court. Very often, counsel had not read the papers before coming to court, and was ignorant of the facts, and the law pursuant to which the appeal was lodged,” she added.
The President said lawyers are “absolutely” indispensable to the appeal process. She said they are advisors to and advocates for clients aggrieved by decisions of the lower courts and tribunals; and more importantly, they are officers of the court, and public citizens with a special responsibility for the quality of justice.
“In essence, you are, like us, guardians of the rule of law; guardians of the ideal that all people stand equally before the law, none above it and none below it.”
She encouraged counsel to abandon the “lackadaisical”and “cavalier” approach to their responsibilities and to work harder to deepen their scholarship and advocacy skills to maintain the quality of justice the people of The Bahamas deserve.
She also urged the lawyers to develop a pro bono scheme to assist with the provision of legal aid to those in need of legal representation but who cannot afford it.
“I also implore you to make yourselves available for mentoring new counsel in the principles of the law, advocacy, ethics, court room etiquette; and in whatever other area is needed,” she added.