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Acting Chief Justice: Courts Do Not Create Criminals, Society Does

Acting Chief Justice Vera Watkins delivers remarks to officially open the new Legal Year. (BIS Photos/Patrick Hanna)

Acting Chief Justice Vera Watkins delivers remarks to officially open the new Legal Year. (BIS Photos/Patrick Hanna)

By NICO SCAVELLA

Tribune Staff Reporter

nscavella@tribunemedia.net

THE country’s top judge has noted that “unfair criticisms” of the country’s judicial system has subsided over the past year, though she reminded those who continue to blame the courts for the country’s crime woes that the courts "do not create criminals”, but society does.

Acting Chief Justice Vera Watkins, in addressing the opening of the 2019 legal year, said while there was a time “not too long ago” that courts “bore the brunt of the blame for the high level of crime in the country”, it is “refreshing” to note that the trend has mostly discontinued.

She said the focus has now shifted to where it ought to be: “on the role of the family in the prevention of crime”.

In September of 2017, outspoken self-styled activist Omar Archer was convicted and sentenced to 21 days in prison by Justice Cheryl Grant-Thompson for contemptuous remarks he previously made about the legal proceedings against former Cabinet minister Shane Gibson. The sentence was suspended once Archer made donations to two charities and performed community service.

That same month, a bench warrant was issued for the arrest of media personality Christina “Chrissy Love” Thompson for failing to appear before the same judge to face charges of contempt of court stemming from certain remarks she made about Mr Gibson’s legal proceedings.

During the opening of the 2018 legal year, former Chief Justice Stephen Isaacs, acting in that capacity at the time, criticised the “uninformed destructive attacks on judicial officers” and stressed the importance of a judiciary free from “extraneous noises” and “improper influences”.

Addressing the topic during Wednesday’s ceremony, ACJ Watkins said: “There was a time not too long ago when the courts bore the brunt of the blame for the high level of crime in the Bahamas. It was convenient for members of the public as well as persons who are held in high esteem by the public, to make public pronouncements that suggest that the proliferation in criminal activities was due to the fact that judges and magistrates were too lenient in their dispensation of sentences and that too many accused persons were being released on bail.

“…It is imperative that society in general and all of those who engage in the practice of blaming the judicial system for the behaviour of the criminal elements in our society, come to the realization that the courts do not create criminals. Criminals are created in the homes and societies in which they live.”

Concerning the issue of the granting of bail, ACJ Watkins further noted that “contrary to popular misconception”, persons brought before the courts are not to be regarded as guilty. Conversely, she said the courts “must regard them as being innocent and the courts must treat them as innocent persons”.

“The courts cannot, therefore, punish innocent persons by denying bail,” she said. “Each bail application must be considered on its own merit and bail can only be denied within the confines of the law. It is the responsibility of the court to provide the facilities to ensure that every person who is accused of a crime is afforded a fair hearing within a reasonable time.

“It is only when accused persons are found guilty of a criminal offence that the court will mete out an appropriate punishment according to the statute law and guidelines set by case law”.

ACJ Watkins further suggested that the judiciary needs more Supreme Court judges, 20 as a matter of fact, particularly to alleviate the case loads Supreme Court judges who deal with civil matters with which they are “inundated.”

According to ACJ Watkins, there are currently 16 substantive Supreme Court judges. Of that number, 10 are assigned to hear criminal matters, and one of those judges presides over matters brought before the Supreme Court in Freeport, Grand Bahama. The other five judges are assigned to hear civil matters. Thus, ACJ Watkins said there are twice as many judges hearing criminal matters.

“A few years ago the Supreme Court Act was amended to increase the maximum number of judges to 20,” she said. “I am of the view that there is a need for 20 judges. The judges hearing civil matters are inundated with cases.”

Despite her calls for more judges, however, ACJ Watkins noted the judiciary’s physical/infrastructural limitations.

“…While the Supreme Court Act makes provisions for 20 justices of the Supreme Court, at the present time there are no accommodations available to house an additional four judges. It is my hope that the judiciary will be able to secure additional accommodations in the near future”.

Comments

tell_it_like_it_is 1 week, 1 day ago

This ACJ is ALSO playing the "blame" game. EVERYBODY has to own up to their part in the crime problem. The court system IS a part of it, so is the failings of the police, broken homes, unemployment, poor ethical values, unwanted pregnancies, substance abuse, and the list goes on and on.

WHEREVER you fall in that list, you should ask yourself... what role can I play to make things better? Just blaming society alone solves NOTHING!
There is always something that can be improved. The court system is FAAAARRRR from perfect!!!

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Sickened 5 days, 22 hours ago

Preach it brother! I wid you!!

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Godson 1 week, 1 day ago

The Court and Judicial system of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas is the principle tool in the creation of criminals and the perpetuation of crime throughout The Bahamas. No among of speech can do away with the facts.

Either by way of incompetence, negligence and malfeasance, the officers of the Courts, including the judges, are complacent in criminalizing our citizens: creating criminals out of them. I, Godson A. Johnson, have and can still show and establish why this is the case.

The court system, and by extension, the judiciary was originally and essentially established to provide a civil forum for dueling parties to resolve issues and have acts of injustice redress; and the system was developed with the view to end hostile persons resorting to violence and physically aggressive means as a resolve.

In The Bahamas, the judicial system serves to the benefit of certain families and class. Remember when Craig Flowers was caught red handed operating illegal gambling? He is now a leading citizen! When the mandatory sentencing for possession of a firearm was two (2) years, 'The Meat Man' (of Blue Hill Rd.) received probation. The Court, the Registrars and its officers continue to compromise persons and their cases.

I could only wish that I, Godson Andrew Johnson, be brought before the Court for contempt. Unlike Omar Archer or Chrissy Love, I can further firmly establish the complacency of Our Courts and the Judicial System in criminalizing our citizens. But they won't.

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joeblow 5 days, 23 hours ago

Actually no! Countries have the power through their laws to determine what is right or wrong and what the punishment should be for breaking them. Anyone who commits an act determined by the laws of the country to be criminal, commits a crime. If a law is problematic then it should be changed, but until it is one violates it when one breaks it. It is the breaking of the law by a person that makes them a criminal, not the judicial system itself, but it is the failure to consistently apply and update the law that causes the appearance of partiality in the system. These two are not the same thing!

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Godson 5 days, 18 hours ago

What you have stated stands on all four, that is, you are correct; however, what I am alluding to is the willful act of officers of the court, including some judges, that intentionally, or otherwise, do or fail to do what is right and just with the aim to stagnate or divert justice in matters that come before the courts.

People are resorting to these primitive and cannibalistic expressions of crime because, in our court system, one can hardly see the light or the end of the proverbial tunnel, that is, a sincerely just and fair trial of their matters.

I have read the Court of Appeal ruling in the rape case involving Cynthia 'Mother' Pratt's son. Only Justice Blackman had the courage to call it for what it was: THE RAPE OF TWO (2) MINORS. He noted how the police tampered with the evidence to the benefit of their colleague, Crown Sargeant Julian Pratt.

Now consider those two girls who, by the way, were orphans - Wards of the State. Do we expect them to grow up and become fine and respectable ladies? Or for that fact, do we expect them to become law abiding citizens? They were destroyed before they even had a change. And by who? An officer of the Court. Did they get Justice when the matter came before the Court? NO!!!

They were raped and were not given any recourse for justice or remedy. This is the case because the defendant belonged to a certain political class. What do we expect them to do if they become parents? What are they suppose to teach their children as it relates to the courts and the judiciary, or, for that fact, the law itself?

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joeblow 5 days, 1 hour ago

...again, each person must decide for themselves whether or not they will follow the law. It is people, within and outside of the judicial system, who choose to live below the standards of the law. This is true for both the laws of God and man. Because men are flawed and my choose to be weak we must understand that true justice only comes from God!

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TalRussell 1 week ago

Yes, or no - last time heard from comrade sister Chrissy Love was way back after her sudden exit from ZNS, when she said, "See y’all when tings done fix." Yes, no, any updates?

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rawbahamian 1 week ago

There are laws in place to deal with criminals but Judges all too frequently just spank criminals on their hands and say" bad boy " or give them tge absolute bare minium sentence subtracting time on remand and issuing 6 and 9 month years. The criminals " you'll ain't serious" so they have no fear of punishment. Our Judicial system is made up of the same material that good comedies is made from. Until we get serious with the criminals and deal with them as they should be, they will continue to deal with society just as they are only to get worse !!!

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TalRussell 1 week ago

Yes, or no after the AG's office dropped charges against two about town prominent lawyers following an incident on Jaws Beach - the Chief all Magistrates said she was glad the two of them could “extend a hand of friendship and camaraderie”, adding: “Go your way and sin no more. Yes, no - no need make stuff up

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sealice 5 days, 20 hours ago

No actually it was the PLP in the 70's and 80's that made being a gangsta cool in the Bahamas.....all brave's drug boys from cat island coming to town to by rolex's from John Bull and show off their money.....living in 1 room shacks with a $100,000 car outside....made multiple generations want to grow up lazy and dumb and hopefully get lucky running drugs....

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DWW 5 days, 20 hours ago

To state the obvious but perhaps overlooked: if there are more laws there are more criminals. If there are less laws and therefore less illegal activity there will be less criminals.

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joeblow 5 days, 20 hours ago

The number of laws is not the issue, its one's willingness to respect and live within the confines of the law. If the only law in existence was "do not cut your hair", people would be found guilty!

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