By NICO SCAVELLA
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE use of nolle prosequi orders to hack away at the backlog of criminal matters before the courts decreased by more than 60 percent in 2017 compared with the previous year, Attorney General Carl Bethel said yesterday.
Mr Bethel, in making his remarks during the opening of the 2018 legal year, said 31 cases were disposed of in 2017 via a nolle prosequi – or a stop prosecution order – compared with the 92 in 2016, making for a 66 percent decrease.
Mr Bethel said this “threefold decrease” is indicative of a “policy to use the power of the nolle more sparingly and only in those cases which are hopelessly beyond prosecution.”
Mr Bethel also said the criminal justice conviction rate averaged around 67 percent for all offences and was just over 70 percent for murder and related offences, such as attempted murder and manslaughter.
He also said the Office of the Attorney General prosecuted 78 murder and related offences in 2017, 54 of which resulted in guilty verdicts while 16 resulted in not guilty verdicts.
Mr Bethel said while those figures are “still a ways off” from the 75-80 percent conviction rate his office is currently targeting, it is still a “very decent conviction rate” when compared with the statistics of “comparable jurisdictions”.
Mr Bethel also said 231 voluntary bills of indictment (VBI) were served in 2017 and that the practice will continue in 2018.
Mr Bethel also mentioned a number of initiatives his office plans to implement to improve the efficiency of justice, which include, the “enhanced use” of digital technology in the preparation and presentation of cases; implementing an electronic bail management system that will allow people on bail seeking to report to police stations to do so via fingerprint and biometric scans; and encouraging magistrates and judges to more actively manage the trial process as opposed to being “neutral arbiters or judicial umpires”.
Regarding the last item, Mr Bethel said his office will recommence consultation with the legal profession and the judiciary in short order with a view of implementing “Bahamian Civil Procedure Rules,” which he said will hopefully replace the existing Supreme Court rules.
Mr Bethel also said his office will, over the next several months, work closely with the judiciary and the Ministry of Public Works to create two new courtrooms: a civil family court and a criminal court, the latter of which will give “focused attention” to sexual offences, domestic violence matters and backlog cases.
He said the civil court will be renovated and housed in the courtroom formerly used in the eastern downstairs part of the main Supreme Court building and the criminal court at the north-east corner of the Saffrey Square arcade. These will allow for the appointment of additional Supreme Court judges, he said.
“… It is my hope that the efforts of all those engaged in the profession of the law, at the bench or the bar, public or private, and those supporting in an administrative capacity, be guided in 2018 by the single quest for justice, which Lord Gardiner, QC, a former lord chancellor of the UK, described as ‘the conscience of the legal profession,’” Mr Bethel said.