Friday, August 27, 2010

Optimistic that the Attorney General's office will eventually restore the confidence of Bahamians in their judicial system

New hope for the Attorney General's office
tribune242 editorial

OVER THE years there has been agitation -- especially from Fox Hill MP Fred Mitchell -- for an all Bahamian judiciary.

Today the judiciary up to the level of the Supreme Court -- with the exception of a foreign magistrate in Abaco and another in Freeport -- is all Bahamian. However, it has never been in a worse state of confusion than it is now. The public has certainly lost confidence in the once honourable judicial system as cases mount, crime grows, and more criminals are returned to the streets because an early trial cannot be guaranteed them.

These are some of the many problems with which John Delaney, QC, the newly appointed Attorney General, is faced and which he eventually will have to solve. He has to track cases that should have been dealt with years ago, but were just allowed to slip under the blotter and get "lost." He has to deal with persons on bail who would probably be behind bars if their cases had been dealt with in a timely manner. However, because of an apparent lack of expert management in the office of the attorney general these persons with criminal records and pending trials are still roaming the streets and creating fear in the community.

In his contribution to the Budget debate in the Senate on June 23, Mr Delaney, after emphasizing that his department "has able and dedicated counsel at various levels for the prosecution of criminal cases, some of whom shoulder a disproportionate load relative to others at their level," pointed to his department's gravest problem. "However," he told senators, "an apparent inadequacy of senior managerial-level direction, control, operational focus and discipline over a number of years have left this department compromised in providing the appropriate level and quality of response needed to meet the demands it has faced and continues to face within the criminal justice system."

To get cases moving the Judicial Legal Service Commission appointed Mrs Vinette Graham Allen, a Jamaican, as Director of Public Prosecutions. Mrs Graham Allen, who has an outstanding record of managing and moving cases efficiently, took up her post this month. She has had senior management experience in Jamaica's Department of Public Prosecutions as its Deputy Director. She was Director of Bermuda's Department of Public Prosecutions, and Director and Principal of Jamaica's Justice Training Institute, where she was responsible for designing, developing, organising, coordinating and conducting training programmes in Justice administration.

She ran into difficulty in Bermuda where Bermudians were agitating for a local rather than a foreigner to head the DPP's department. As we understand it Bermuda has a similar problem to the Bahamas, and probably the efficiency of Mrs Graham Allen rattled too many slow-moving bones into unaccustomed action to get cases moving. Whatever the problem, when Mrs Graham Allen left Bermuda there were only 15 cases left of the 600 she found gathering dust on her arrival. This is just the kind of effort the Bahamas is looking for, and apparently, our Bahamian lawyers in the Attorney General's office also want this type of leadership and are cooperating with her so that cases can start moving through the system more efficiently. This is all the public wants -- there are too many unhealthy rumours about certain cases that have been pushed aside and seemingly forgotten.

It would seem that Mr Delaney's focus will be on current cases first to remove the concern of magistrates and judges over the question of bail. If the Attorney General's office can deal with accused persons without long adjournments, magistrates will no longer have to consider the length of time an accused has to remain in prison awaiting trial. There will then be no reason for magistrates to grant bail in serious cases.

Mr Delaney told the Senate that he was informed that 47 cases were processed for the year 2009 and 24 cases so far for 2010. "Giving the number of pending cases, on the one hand," he observed, "and the constitutional imperative of a fair trial within a reasonable period of time, on the other, the question of bail for persons charged with an offence becomes an issue." He said there were about 130 persons now out on bail for murder related offences.

"The processing of cases and the bail situation must be improved," he told the Senate, "and this government is determined to do all within its power to cause improvement."

It is going to take a long time because there is much to be done, but we are confident that Mr Delaney, with his new DPP, supported by deputy directors, Franklyn Williams and Garvin Gaskin, and their hard working legal staff -- a department of about 22 lawyers -- will eventually restore the confidence of Bahamians in their judicial system.

August 26, 2010

tribune242 editorial