By DENISE MAYCOCK
Tribune Freeport Reporter
ATTORNEY General Carl Bethel said they would be pushing for the opening of a Sexual Offences Court during the 2019 legal year to address the “egregious” delay of those matters which have contributed to the long backlog of cases in the court system.
Mr Bethel spoke with reporters at the Garnet Levarity Justice Centre on Friday following the annual church service and procession to the courthouse to mark the opening of the legal year in Grand Bahama.
In response to the sermon by Canon Norman Lightbourne concerning the lack of swift justice for persons in the court system, the Attorney General agreed that justice delayed is justice denied.
He said: “We have been engaged in a continual process over many years to improve the speed of justice, and we are constantly reducing the backlog of cases.”
“The most pressing area we need to focus is on setting up a court specifically to deal with sexual offences. That is where there is the greatest and egregious delay,” Mr Bethel stressed.
He indicated that they had expected to have a sexual offence court ready this year for matters, but funding from an international agency fell through.
“Unfortunately, we were exploring a source of funding through an international agency that has an ongoing project with my office and the Ministry of National Security, and at the last minute last year they told us they were not going to fund it because we proposed to rent the building after we spent over nearly a year working on getting the court ready for sexual offences matters,” he said.
“We are now seeking hopefully in the midterm to have the government allocate the money so that we, the Bahamian people, will pay for our own court. After all, we already borrowed it, but they did not want to lend it for us to build it, but they waited long to tell us.
“So, it was a great disappointment for us that it came so late in the day because we confidently expected this year we would have had a sexual offences court up and running in Nassau.”
“So, we will in due course do it during the course of this legal year. If we can get that Sexual Offence Court up and running, it would assist us in clearing more of the backlog cases more than five years old that have languished,” he said.
In Grand Bahama, the Attorney General stated that they hope to continue to improve the administration of the justice at the Garnet Levarity Justice Centre in Freeport.
He indicated that next week construction would start on the renovation of the roof, and the exterior and interior of the courts.
“It is going to be an investment of nearly $2 million… if we fix the roof, it would fix the problem that led to suggestions of the infestation of mould, and hopefully lead to the improvement and advancement of justice here in Freeport, and on the island of Grand Bahama,” said Mr Bethel.
According to Mr Bethel, they are also looking into the question of employing court marshals at the courts in Grand Bahama.
“We want to hire some Grand Bahamians as court marshals to man the Magistrate and Supreme Courts, and we hope to post a second sitting justice here in SC Freeport as well during the course of the year because that is a matter for the judiciary. When I say we hope to it is because we have to try and make the building serviceable and ready to accommodate (persons),” he said.
Registrar Stefana Saunders informed lawyers that they would be experiencing challenges as the renovation of the Supreme Court will begin on Monday. With the start of improvements, she said, there are times when the court will have to close.