Nassau, The Bahamas – Following a service of thanksgiving at Christ Church Cathedral members of the legal profession, led by Chief Justice Sir Michael Barnett, marched to the Supreme Court where they assembled to participate in the annual opening of the Legal Year on January 8.
Allyson Maynard-Gibson, Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs told the packed courtroom that the number of persons who are being released on bail, charged with serious offences, continues to be a “glaring” problem.“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.”
Ten criminal courts will begin operation on March 3. According to the Attorney-General these courts, combined with enhanced and new strategies, will allow serious matters to be routinely brought for trial within one year of the person being charged – which will dramatically reduce the numbers charged with serious offences released on bail.
The Attorney General rolled out a 10 point plan that is expected to be implemented in March along with the concurrent operation of the additional courts. The new strategies include the creation of a Public Defender Unit, amendments to the Juries Act, care of witnesses and witness statements, training for prosecutors and magistrates, preparation and plea bargaining.
“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,” the Attorney General said. She announced that ministers of religion and justices of the peace will soon be asked to volunteer to attend witness interviews in police stations and at the Criminal Defence Unit. In 2013 a witness gave evidence in a trial via video conference from the remand court at Fox Hill Prison and police are routinely video recording interviews with suspects.Amendments to the Juries Act are presently being finalised for discussion with stakeholders.
According to Maynard-Gibson, temporary 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 intimidation of jurors will not be tolerated and will be dealt with by the full force of the law,” she said.
Serious consideration is being given to constitutional amendment regarding capital punishment. However, the Attorney-General explained that a referendum would be required as an entrenched provision of the Constitution would be amended. “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,” she added.